Alumni Spotlight: Susan P. Gilbert
After receiving her PhD from Dartmouth in 1986, biology alumna, Susan P. Gilbert, embarked on a remarkable career that continues through today. Gilbert, professor and head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, was recently awarded the William H. Wiley 1866 Distinguished Faculty Award. This award honors “those who have won the respect of the faculty… based on excellence in teaching, productive research, and interest in the totality of the educational process.”
Research in Gilbert’s lab at RPI is also thriving. Broadly, she is “fascinated by molecular motors, and kinesins in particular.” Kinesins are nanoscale molecule motors that move along microtubules, a cytoskeletal component, and are responsible for a variety of functions in the cell, with important roles in cell division and cargo transport. Specifically, she wonders, “How can [the] subtle differences in sequence [amongst the >40 human kinesins] orchestrate the diversity of cellular movements, cytoskeleton remodeling and cellular functions?” Gilbert is currently funded by a prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) MERIT award, which provides “long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior.” Her work has been published in 52 peer-reviewed manuscripts, as well as ten invited reviews, book chapters, and commentaries.
Gilbert has trained over 35 future scientists, including 11 doctoral students. One of Gilbert’s former students is Jared Cochran, current assistant professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Indiana University Bloomington, who did his postdoctoral training with Rodgers Professor of Chemistry and Dean of Graduate Studies at Dartmouth F. Jon Kull. Cochran earned his PhD in Gilbert’s lab while Gilbert was at the University of Pittsburgh. According to Cochran, “As an undergrad, it was my biochemistry professor [Gilbert] who steered me toward grad school. Throughout my entire career, she has been very helpful at every stage. I am very thankful to have Susan as my mentor and friend.”
According to Gilbert, who earned her PhD in professor of biology Roger Sloboda’s lab: “I truly believe that my training at Dartmouth prepared me to emerge as an independent scientist. I was taught to write papers, to give presentations, to apply for grants and also to teach well. When I went to the University of Pittsburgh as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, I felt I was prepared.”
In recounting Gilbert’s time at Dartmouth, Professor Sloboda says, “I think what I recall most about Susan is her focus, attention to detail, drive, and above all, her enthusiasm for science. She is also thoughtful, and level-headed in her analysis of data and situations, and a wonderful colleague off of which to bounce ideas and get advice. I always come away from every conversation with Susan feeling better about myself.”
When asked what she tells her own students about navigating a successful career in science, Gilbert advises: “I have always said find your niche where you will be passionate about what you do every day, and that being like me may not be the right fit for you.”
To learn more about Gilbert’s incredible career, read her American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) profile from 2010.
by Jeanine Amacher