Visitor of the Week: Daniel Lee


Meet Daniel Lee of the California Institute of Technology. The NIH K99 Postdoctoral Research Fellow in David Prober’s laboratory was at CSHL last week to take part in the Workshop on Leadership in Bioscience. This was the first CSHL course for Daniel, who already has plans to return for this year’s Programming for Biology, the Scientific Writing Retreat, and the brand new meeting on Zebrafish Neural Circuits & Behavior.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Despite the impact of sleep disorders, the fact that we sleep for a third of our lives, and the evolutionary conservation of sleep-like states, mechanisms that underlie this behavioral state remain poorly understood. My research utilizes animal models to identify novel and evolutionarily conserved sleep regulatory mechanisms.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Sleep is among the most enduring mysteries in biology. Furthermore, sleep disorders are pervasive in modern societies. Over 10% of Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders for which therapeutic options are poor, with an estimated annual cost of $100 billion in lost productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, property, and environmental damage.

Progress in understanding human sleep has been hindered in part by the complexity of mammalian brains and the difficulty of using rodent model animals for large-scale behavioral genetic screens. To overcome these limitations, we take a new approach to an old problem, and utilize the amenability of zebrafish to large-scale behavioral and genetic screens in order to provide insights into sleep regulation and function. I and others have recently demonstrated behavioral, anatomical, genetic and pharmacological conservation of sleep in zebrafish and mammals, suggesting that findings we make in zebrafish will likely apply to mammalian sleep. Exploring mechanisms that regulate sleep in the zebrafish animal model can help identify drug targets useful in treating human sleep and associated neurological disorders.

How did your scientific journey begin?
In high school, I attended a public lecture series at a nearby medical school that challenged my youthful beliefs about the current state of medicine. I remember being awed by one particular lecture led by a physician who described huge gaps in our understanding about the causes of various of human diseases. The lecturer quoted the evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, “[None of the advances of 20th century medicine] depend on a deep knowledge of cellular processes or on any discoveries of molecular biology. Cancer, for example, is still treated by gross physical and chemical assaults on the offending tissue.” He then implored, “We need more people to become scientist to open that frontier, and to usher the next era of medicine.” The realization that basic research was essential to making mechanistic-based therapies and treatments was a driving force in my choice of a research career in the biomedical sciences.

Was there something specific about the Workshop on Leadership in Bioscience that drew you to apply?
The ability to consistently perform high impact science over one’s career involves more than technical prowess and great experimental design, but also the ability to lead, mentor, and inspire young scientists. My desire in attending this workshop was to develop a greater self-awareness of my approach to leadership, and to acquire a better communication toolbox to mentor and develop teams of scientists.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the workshop to your work?
The current state of modern scientific training emphasizes technical and communication skills above all else. The skills to hire, lead, and manage are generally taught secondarily and in an ad hoc manner, if at all. I’ve received excellent scientific training by my mentors, and sought to become a better leader and mentor myself. I will take this toolbox of leadership skills to grow and develop my future lab.

What is your key takeaway from the workshop?
The key takeaway from this workshop is probably best summed up by Alison Antes, one of the co-participants, “Want to get the best research from your team? [The] first law of leadership: be human first, scientist second.” She has written an excellent world view piece on six steps to develop stronger research relationships.

This was your fist course at CSHL. What did you think of it and do you have any plans to attend a future CSHL meeting and/or course?
I plan to! This was an incredible opportunity to learn a large body of information efficiently, and moreover to develop deep bonds with other passionate scientists along the way. Over the next year, I plan to apply for the Programming for Biology Course and the Scientific Writing Retreat, as well the Zebrafish Neural Circuits and Behavior Meeting.

If someone curious in attending this workshop asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Do it! Apply now.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The people. As scientists, we’re not only passionate about expanding our understanding about a poorly understood intellectual area, but we are interested in lifelong learning that helps us to accomplish that. Being thrust together with new people and diverse perspectives at a place like CSHL, you are forced to challenge your heuristics , internally confront gaps in your understanding, and to learn more about yourself in the process. The people make that happen.

Daniel received financial support from the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to cover a portion of his workshop tuition. On behalf of Daniel thank you to NIGMS for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Daniel for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.