Student stories

Student Stories

How undergraduate and graduate students from around the world came to do reserarch at the LSI.

Allison Billi, Medical Scientist Training Program FellowAllison Billi
Medical Scientist Training Program Fellow

I came to science through an interest in medicine. I am currently a fifth-year fellow in the Medical Scientist Training Program. Pursuing a degree in human genetics, I work in the laboratory of Dr. John Kim studying the nematode C. elegans, a worm smaller than an eyelash. In C. elegans, I am investigating how genes are regulated in the developing sperm and egg through the action of small RNA molecules that pair with and repress gene products. The small RNA mechanisms I study are likely not entirely conserved in humans, and the translational promise of my research is remote. I receive no small amount of criticism as an aspiring physician scientist for using the (lungless, heartless, mostly brainless) nematode as a model organism. But research at the Life Sciences Institute has a diversity in the scientific questions, approaches, and organisms that invigorates the faculty and students. Surrounded by labs that are exploring the fundamentals of biology, I feel far less pressure to confine my research to obviously medically relevant investigations. I can pursue science for the sake of science, with the expertise and resources of an army of brilliant investigators readily available. And who knows what one will find while not hunting for cures for human disease? The field of small RNAs began when a few scientists published their work on a genetic curiosity thought to be unique to the worm, and now small RNAs represent one of the most exciting forefronts in cancer biology. (December 2011)

Vishan Dhamsania, undergraduateVishan Dhamsania
LSA undergraduate student

Since attending the University of Michigan my interest in science has grown significantly. A reason for this growth is the passion that I have seen in all of my professors and research sponsors. I have learned that in science there are no typical mindsets; rather, each person has the opportunity to fine tune his or her interest and discover unique aspects of science. Working in the Tesmer Lab in the LSI has done just this for me. I am assisting in determining the molecular interactions between the alpha subunit of the q family of G Proteins and Phospholipase C-beta. Through a variety of biochemical and imaging techniques performed in the lab, I have been able to witness firsthand the field of structural biology and its implications on others fields within science. My experiences in the Tesmer Lab have been unparalleled.  Within and outside of the lab, supportive people who constantly stimulate my interest in science surround me. I feel as if the LSI possesses a cooperative and teamwork based mentality, and I know that my encounters here will have an everlasting effect in my quest to further study science. (December 2011)

Katie Dumas, Graduate StudentKatie Dumas
Graduate Student

I think that I’ve always been interested in science, in finding out what makes things tick. As a kid, I remember wading into ponds with my brother to see what kinds of creatures we could find in the pond water. In elementary school I was thrilled when we got to look at pond water under a microscope and see all of the amazing microscopic organisms zooming around in just a little drop. In college, I studied biology and psychology and thought for a while that I would pursue behavioral research. While I was in college at Rensselaer Polytechnic, a great research opportunity opened my eyes to molecular and cellular biology; my interests in understanding the behavior of people shifted to understanding the behavior of genes, proteins and cells. 

I came to Michigan excited about science and biomedical research, but not necessarily focused on one particular field or research question. I found my research home in the lab of Dr. Patrick Hu in the Life Sciences Institute, and jumped into a project involving unraveling the control of an important family of transcription factors by a new signaling pathway. The work has been exciting; in the process of trying to understand more about how components of this new pathway, the eak genes, exert regulatory control over FoxO transcription factors, I’ve gained expertise in the fields of metabolism, aging, and cancer. 

Being in the LSI has accelerated my research and allowed us to pursue questions and strategies that might not be possible elsewhere. We are surrounded by groups with the expertise, insight, and equipment necessary to take my project in whichever direction it needs to go. Moreover, the LSI students and faculty that I’ve gotten to know during my time here will be undoubtedly be invaluable resources for my future career in science. (December 2011)

Jiankie Gong, Graduate StudentJianke Gong
Graduate Student

When Jianke Gong, a native of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China, first decided to come to the University of Michigan to work on graduate research, one of the only things he knew about the institution was that it had produced some famous quarterbacks for the NFL. The other thing he knew was that U-M was where Shawn Xu did his research. Gong met LSI faculty member Xu in 2008 at an international neuroscience meeting where Xu was presenting. "I needed a leader for my career, and Professor Xu is a rising star," Gong said.  

About 60 people, headed by a professor, worked in his lab in China. About 15 work in Xu's lab at the LSI. "He has time to focus on each lab member and each project," Gong said. "He can give me the whole picture, of what I need to do and what I need to finish." (December 2012)

Donald Damion Raymond, Graduate StudentDonald Damion Raymond
Graduate Student

I have always had an interest in science. The natural world always fascinated me, and living on a small island in the Caribbean, the opportunities for experimentation were endless. As I got older, I became interested in viral pathogens like Dengue fever virus, yellow fever virus and HIV that were infecting our small population in large numbers. It was this interested in virology that compelled me to join Janet Smith's lab at the LSI to study how RNA viruses package and cap their genomes. The support I received from LSI faculty and staff were essential to the success of our projects. This includes evaluating protein crystals on our well-maintained in-house X-ray generator, getting advice about protein expression and purification from Jim Delproposto and Clay Brown at the High Throughput Protein lab, using the fluorometer in Jason Gestwicki's lab for binding studies and using the electron microscope in Yiorgo Skiniotis' lab to visualize authentic viral RNA genomes. I rarely had to leave the building! (December 2011)

Andrea Thompson, Graduate Student

Andrea Thompson
Graduate Student

Being a scientist means that we have a voice inside of us that asks why, how, and when. What began as the simple questions of childhood, like why is the sky blue, grew into a desire to answer some of the unknown mysteries of the world around us. For me, the question was never whether I wanted to be a scientist, but rather how I could become a better scientist. This desire to better understand the world around me brought me to the MD/PhD program here at the University of Michigan. As a graduate student in Jason Gestwicki’s lab at the Life Sciences Institute (LSI), my work focuses on molecular chaperones, a class of proteins which play a key role in protein folding and degradation, processes which are implicated in diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.  As a student at the LSI I have had the privilege to use advance instrumentation including the Center for Chemical Genomics and electron microscopy, among others.  I have also benefitted from the collaborative environment shared within the building.  I get feedback on my project from the many talented professors who have labs here in the LSI. I am able to borrow reagents and learn novel techniques from neighboring labs. Further I have been able to explore overarching themes of our research through multi-laboratory group meeting and symposium talks.  Being a student at the LSI means never being limited by resources or expertise. It has been an environment that has helped me to see the many opportunities that exist for understanding the world around us and has indeed made me a better scientist. (December 2011)

Kart Tomberg, Graduate StudentKärt Tomberg  
Graduate Student

When Kärt Tomberg began working on her Ph.D. in 2010, arriving at U-M on an International Fulbright Science and Technology award, she was the first Estonian student at the university since 2003. She is used to being part of an international community. "In Estonia, international scientific conferences are a necessity to find like-minded people," Tomberg said. "We don't have many specialized national meetings; Estonia is too small."     

Tomberg's adviser is LSI faculty member David Ginsburg; in his lab she is studying the genes involved in blood coagulation.  "I can have a lot more imagination in my science here," she said. "U-M students can ask the questions they're interested in, rather than the questions they can afford." (December 2012)