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Graduate Student Blog

By Hung-Tu Chen, Student Professional Development Support Fund Recipient

Hung-Tu with his poster at the 2019 CoSyNe conference.

CoSyNe is major conference for the exchange of experimental and theoretical/computational approaches to problems in systems neuroscience. This year, the conference was held in in Lisbon, Portugal. Due to a record-high number of applications this year, only a subset of abstracts are selected. Fortunately, I was able to attend and present at this conference.

My poster was titled "Between-
subject prediction reveals a shared representational
geometry in the rodent hippocampus". Our work provides a novel computational analysis to investigate the latent structure shared across subjects using electrophysiological neural data.

Going to CoSyNe 2019 was a valuable experience for my development of graduate career as it was my first time to present my work in Dartmouth in a major conference. I learned a lot about research outside my field, exchanged exciting ideas with other neuroscientists, and obtained feedbacks that may help to explain why our method works and guide the future direction of this project. I am extremely grateful for the financial support provided by the Graduate Student Council Student Support Fund.

Interested in learning more about how to get your travel expenses covered? Check out our student professional development support fund and our conference travel grant here.

By Ashley Wells, President of the Dartmouth Writers Society

The Dartmouth Writers Society provides an opportunity for graduate students to foster their literary skills and interests!

The Dartmouth Writers Society (DWS) is a GSC sponsored organization that is dedicated to the literary pursuits of graduate students on campus. We are a community of writers who aim to provide constructive feedback to our fellow wordsmiths.

Our organization includes workshops, writing prompts, and targeted discussions which aim to stimulate impactful writing. All genres, topics, and forms of creative writing are welcome. If you are looking for a way to relax and spend a fun evening thinking about all things related to words, the Dartmouth Writers Society is the place to be.

DWS holds bi-weekly meetings every other Friday from 5 pm-6:30 pm in the Baker Library. We also held our first annual Lit(erary) Night this past July. Here, we invited graduate students and alum to read their creative works in front of the graduate student community. We will be holding more events in the future that we hope will continue to assist in establishing the literary community on the Dartmouth campus.

We are always looking for new members who are passionate about writing and critique. Find us at our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dartmouth-Writers-Society-1221589044693259/, or reach out to us at dartmouth.writers.society@dartmouth.edu to be added to our listserve.

Would you like to advertise your graduate organization on the GSC Blog? Submit a blog post here

By Diana Toledo, Student Professional Development Support Fund Recipient

Diana at her poster at the American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting

I attended and presented my research at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Annual Meeting held in sunny San Diego, CA on October 16th – 20th, 2018. There were over 9,000 attendees this year, which broke their previous attendance record. This conference brings many clinical and research geneticists, genetic counselors, graduate students, and industry members together in one space for four days of science. They had many sessions on cutting-edge single cell RNA-sequencing, ATAC-sequencing, the translational use of CRISPR, and the clinical interpretation of whole exome/whole genome sequencing results.

I was fortunate enough to present my current research as a poster titled: “Molecular Analysis of a Skin Equivalent Tissue Culture Model System of Systemic Sclerosis using RNA Sequencing, Epigenetic Assays, Histology, and Immunoassays” (Abstract #180122618). To summarize, I have worked to characterize and integrate a 3D skin equivalent tissue culture model system into our lab, which have proven to be a reliable in-vitro system of systemic sclerosis, using multi-omic techniques. This abstract scored in the top 10% of abstracts and received a Reviewers’ Choice Award. The poster session was very helpful to me as I received a lot of good feedback and ideas to forward this project along. I received suggestions on possible drugs and compounds that may be good candidates to test pre-clinically in our 3D skin equivalent model. Another researcher also discussed the clever idea of differentiating patient stem cells into iPSC-derived fibroblasts and creating our 3D skin equivalent tissues using this approach. This would potentially answer the question of whether this disease is more based in genetic predisposition or environmental. Patients who are diagnosed with systemic sclerosis do not have many therapy options and little is known about why they developed it and who else in their family may be at risk. That is why it is so important to utilize new model systems and genomic techniques to better identify possible therapeutics and understand the basis of this disease.

In addition, I was able to reconnect with many of my former mentors, colleagues, and friends at this conference that are still working and contributing to the field of human genetics. Through them, and my own networking, I met many new contacts that wanted to talk about potential collaborations and/or future post-doctoral opportunities. I also participated in the Conference to Career program through the Jackson Lab (in collaboration with ASHG), which further enhanced my ability to network with professionals in the field.

I am grateful to the Graduate Student Council for providing me with a Student Support Fund to help defray the cost of attending ASHG this year. Their funding supported my registration fees for the conference. Thank you Dartmouth’s Graduate Student Council!

Interested in learning more about how to get your travel expenses covered? Check out our student professional development support fund and our conference travel grant here.

By: Avery Tishue, President of Dartmouth ManyMentors

The ManyMentors Program is involved with a myriad of STEM outreach projects throughout the Upper Valley!

We are Dartmouth ManyMentors, a GSC group on campus dedicated to providing STEM outreach to underserved and underrepresented students in the surrounding Upper Valley communities. Our mission is to increase STEM opportunities more visible, valuable, and viable for underrepresented k-12 students in the Upper Valley. We have a website where new members can sign up and figure out what we have been up to:
https://www.dartmouthmanymentors.org/

We provide both in-person and remote mentoring opportunities. The remote mentoring happens vis skype calls (see below) and other online platforms to connect students with STEM mentors in the Dartmouth community. The in-person mentoring takes a variety of forms. One partnership involves helping students in an intensive STEM research camp, and another sees mentors guiding students through year-long projects (see below).

This past Spring we connected students at Mascoma High School with STEM mentors in the Dartmouth community for a series of Skype calls about cool science topics relevant to their classwork on earth and planetary sciences. These talks ranged from evolution in the oceans to life on mars and a range of other exciting topics.

This summer we just finished a program at NHAS in which mentors assisted middle and high school students in a three week intensive research projected. This culminated in a research symposium in which the students presented their work. The students did some incredible work and it was so rewarding to see their research come together. In addition to NHAS, Dartmouth ManyMentors joined in (with other STEM outreach groups via the GSC) on the Dartmouth 250th celebration for a day of science experience for the public.

This coming academic year, we have a lot of outreach opportunities. Our mentors will be guiding students in underserved science classrooms at Mascoma High School through year-long science projects. The mentors will offer their experience, expertise, and support to help these students with what for many of them is their first real science project! Our online and remote mentoring will continue as well. We also partner with other STEM outreach initiatives on campus, so there are a ton of fun ways to get involved.

We are always looking for mentors who want to make STEM a more diverse and inclusive community! Sign up at https://www.dartmouthmanymentors.org/ , or reach out to Avery Tishue or Hannah Margolis at avery.tishue.gr@dartmouth.edu or hannah.k.margolis.20@dartmouth.edu.

Would you like to advertise your graduate organization on the GSC Blog? Submit a blog post here

By Chaya Patel, Student Professional Development Support Fund Recipient

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the International Herpesvirus Workshop on the beautiful campus of University of British Columbia in Vancouver. While herpes is not many people’s idea of a good time, the conference was filled with engaging talks and exciting events. The ‘Herpetic Legion’, a band of multi-talented virologists, rocked the house with infectious music one night. On another evening, we learnt about the rich heritage of the Musqueam people while exploring the Museum of Anthropology. These events gave us the opportunity to reactivate old friendships and contract new collaborations and projects.

I also presented some of my work, “Maternal vaccination with a replication-defective HSV-2 prevents neonatal herpes morbidity and mortality”, during the satellite and poster sessions. While the talk did not quite go “viral”, the audience members were given a teaser for the keynote talk, given by none other than my advisor, Dr. David Leib. His talk certainly raised questions of epidemic proportion and subsequently elicited lytic discussions.

The conference certainly left us with a contagious motivation to get back to the bench. Thank you to the GSC student support fund, M2P2 training grant, and my advisor for making my participation in this conference possible!

Interested in learning more about how to get your travel expenses covered? Check out our student professional development support fund and our conference travel grant here.

by Catherine Pollack, Communications Chair

The GSC want to help you accomplish your academic and professional goals!

Did you know that the GSC wants to help you offset the costs of some your academic enrichment experiences at Dartmouth? We have two ongoing funding opportunities available to all students in the Guarini School, Thayer, and TDI, and we're excited to share them with you!

The Student Professional Development Support Fund awards up to $200 for opportunities that are related to your growth as a scholar. This can include, but is not limited to, an academic conference, professional development workshop, or service opportunity. Visit the link above to submit an application (including a detailed, itemized budget), which will be reviewed and rewarded on a rolling basis!

The Conference Travel Grant provides one $1,000 travel grant per term for you to present your own research at a conference. In addition to the online application, we ask for a letter of recommendation from a faculty member, particularly your advisor or the program chair. Our next deadline for this opportunity is August 21st, 2019, which would cover conferences occurring from August 27th, 2019 to March 29th, 2020. Note that you may only receive a GSC Conference Travel Grant once every three academic years.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be highlighting some of the exciting activities our awardees have used their funding for in just the past year, from domestic service projects to international conferences. We hope that these stories inspire you to continue your growth as a scholar and leader both inside and outside of the research lab!

Looking forward to reading your story here soon!

by Jin Cheong **Blog Competition**

03/08/2019

 

When I applied to graduate schools in 2015, I was ready to spend the next five years of my life in sunshine California. Unfortunately, I was rejected by all four schools in CA. Even then, I thought it was unlikely that I would end up at Dartmouth. My alternative option was in New York City and when I made a table of pros & cons comparing food options, social life, job opportunities, and dating prospects, Dartmouth never came out on top.

The table of pros & cons, however, did not take into account the nuances which I ended up giving more weight. In NY, I could meet new people every day but by spending less time with department colleagues. I could watch broadway shows and explore new bars but by spending less time at work. Above all, I didn’t want to live my life in constant FOMO, where I would be regretful of not taking advantage of the entertainments offered in the city. That could wait until I get a PhD in five   six plus   years.

But the real reason Dartmouth remained in contention was because I felt I had clicked with the soon-to-be advisor and lab mate. It’s difficult to explain but it was a gut feeling from perhaps 5~6 hours of interaction that had me feeling that I would have more fun working with these people. Perhaps it was this feeling and cognitive dissonance that made up those reasons to NOT go to NY, but I drove up one more time to check if I could live at Dartmouth without the dress-ups of the interview weekend just to be sure. After another few hours of people telling me that I should be aware that Hanover is a really really really small town, I finally took the plunge and decided to come to Dartmouth.

This isn’t the most exciting place in the world. It has three bars, maybe six restaurants (three of them Thai), and three cafes (one of them closes at 3pm).

But you can take it as an opportunity to polish your cooking skills. Cook up a steak and roasted veggies that you picked up from the local farmers market, pair it with a beer from the best brewery in the world. Nightlife is scant, but you can still go to happy hour for a drink or two and honestly who cares when most of the nights you’ll be watching Netflix in your bed anyways.

Despite all this, I think the camaraderie among grad students at Dartmouth definitely makes up for it. I’ve made great friends not just in my department but also in other departments too. We may not have a on-campus grad-housing anymore (RIP North Park) but we still got the grad lounge for study breaks. I ran out new Tinder swipes in a day but eventually I met a girlfriend, whom I’ve been with for 2.5 years, so maybe the dating life here isn’t too bad either

During the 2.5 years, I was also fortunate to work on various research projects that helped me develop new skills and knowledge that prepared me for both academic and industry jobs  to be confirmed .

I ran fMRI and behavioral experiments through which we investigated how people sync up in their emotional expressions and neural responses and how they allow us to infer their impressions of TV characters. In the process, I’ve built open-source equipments and toolboxes that can be used to extract emotion expressions from videos and preprocess, and analyze face expression data. Participating in these projects have also had unexpected benefits of traveling to conferences in LA, Boston, Chicago, and NY, as well as meeting new friends while participating in summer schools such as the MIND and Neurhackweek(https://neurohackweek.github.io/).

As a side project, we have also teamed up with a local cafe and have built an app where we estimate wait times and line lengths using deep learning algorithms to help students get their coffees faster and help businesses better understand customer needs.

Dartmouth may not be for everyone but it could be a place for you. Just make sure you know what you are getting into (snow, lots of snow) and you’ll be fine. If you are already here and feel stuck, just look at the bright side: you’ll be out of here in five six or more years.

 

by Sadie Doran **Blog Competition**

02/20/2019

 

Applying to Dartmouth to pursue my masters in engineering management is part of my “Top 5 Best Things I’ve Done in My Life” (thus far) list. Here’s why: I drove towards Dartmouth on the first day of orientation in September, really nervous, but also with a good gut feeling. Going into undergrad at Syracuse University, I was certain that my random roommate would be my best friend, my life would be like the college photos - and let’s just say life smacked me in the face when I was crying every day and missing home. I actually did cry as I pulled into Hanover that day for orientation (but those were pure  uncontrollable happy tears). In comparison to the larger school community that Syracuse was, Dartmouth automatically felt like my kind of niche environment. Joining a class with interesting people from all over the world, able to share experiences and motivate each other has consistently been a great place to learn and grow. My 7 months here have gone by too fast, but I am so looking forward to the memories yet to be made. It is hard to believe how my life would be different if I had never found the Dartmouth. MEM program…but we don’t need to talk about that. Alright, I am being kind of sappy and cheesy about my love for Dartmouth (blah blah), BUT of course there are hard times that come with being a graduate student. A heavy workload, high expectations, being broke (AF), surrounded by brilliant people (who in the end make you smarter and better, but also slightly intimidate you). I think those tough late nights spent understanding one little topic make it all worth it and I would not trade them for the world. We’re all learning & growing into “adulting” together – so support one another and appreciate all that Hanover has to offer. I feel really lucky to be here in case you have not noticed.

Sincerely,

Sadie

 

by Hannah Grover **Blog Competition**

02/08/2019

 

Stressful. Rewarding? Sometimes it can be hard to really think about the pros and cons of day to day life in graduate school, as fairly often the cons outweigh the pros. The routine can be draining. Every day you get up, put in eight to twelve hours of work (sometimes more…), go home, sleep, and repeat. You eat lunch at your desk so that you can keep working, forgetting when the last time you spoke to another person was. It can be isolating. Trying to plan down to the hour when you have time for homework or heading to DHMC to incubate some eggs, it’s a weird example, but I work with chick embryos and brain development. When you have to work three weekends out of four or the entire “Spring Break” to stay on top of research and classes, to meet deadlines. When do you even have time to read that research article your advisor sent you? It’s never ending, until, you get to that fourth weekend. Finally, there’s no work (or a lot less work). There’s just relaxing, seeing friends, and maybe catching up on a little Netflix. You can read that article now! You can also look back and realize, I actually got so much done. That feeling of accomplishment is what keeps me going and gives me motivation. Crossing long-staying items off a to-do list and feeling like you overcame some hurdle or finally got a protocol to work after spending months getting nowhere because for whatever reason nothing ever wants to work. These are the things that make up for all of the hours put into that the graduate student cycle. It’s the knowledge that you didn’t give up at the toughest times, you buckled down and worked through it. These are the things that help me sleep at night when I know that in the morning I have to be to lab at 6AM on a Saturday. I just repeat the mantra, “It’ll probably be worth it in the end”. The best moments for me, are seeing my work pay off in the form of abstract acceptances to conferences. That’s the moment that you knew those late nights and early mornings really meant something (like a trip to Ireland in July!). Weighing the day to day pros and cons is tough, but in the big picture you know that you are making a contribution and working towards something great. That is the feeling that keeps me going in graduate school. Then you realize there’s still so much more to do…. and you pour another cup of coffee (the other 80% of what keeps me going) and get back to work.

by Nicholas Warren **GSC Professional Development Fund Recipient**

01/20/2019

 

         Thousands of chemists from across the world and dozens of specialties converged in Boston, MA this week for the 256th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Themes ranged from nanoparticle formation, to making batteries safer and more efficient, to designing non-addictive pain medications, to sending probes to other star systems, and even a keynote speech on “the Power of Procrastination” by PhD comics creator, Jorge Cham. The meeting showcased how intertwined chemistry is with every aspect of our daily lives and provided glimpses of technological leaps soon to benefit our society.

Dr. Harry Atwater presented a Keynote speech on “Light  as Fuel” to discuss advances in solar power and fuel generation. The existential threat of global climate change to most life on Earth requires urgent attention, but it is not an impossible challenge to address. Dr. Atwater provided several examples of how solar panels are becoming more efficient at trapping solar energy, thus decreasing cost and promoting green energy adoption. Solar power may soon be the cheapest source of electricity. One new innovative method is to take advantage of materials like Germanium-based semiconductors which re-emit photons instead of completely capturing them. This seems counter intuitive, but the properties of Germanium allow photons to be emitted and re-absorbed almost 100 times. Each time the photon is absorbed a small amount of electricity is generated, allowing for a greater conversion of the overall energy. Better yet, Germanium semiconductors are as flexible as a plastic sheet. Perhaps the greatest challenge of converting our infrastructure to renewable energy is the storage of energy when the sun isn’t shinning. New N-acyl-pyridine based cells are capable of converting sunlight directly into chemical reductive energy to convert CO2 into hydrocarbons like ethanol and ethylene. Some versions are even approaching energy conversion efficiencies similar to traditional solar panels in use today. Artificial photosynthesis of hydrocarbons could readily replace fossil fuels in transportation and power generation while removing CO2 from the atmosphere. These break throughs show great promise for tackling climate change in ways that will decrease the price of energy in the long term.

Solar fuel generation is still likely a decade or more away from wide-spread use, in the meantime there is a need for smaller, incremental advances in energy storage. Rechargeable lithium batteries are currently seeing large advances in efficiency and safety. New formulations of lithium anodes will greatly increase the capacity of batteries. However, there remains a large safety issue with packing all of that chemical energy into a smaller space; lithium battery fires have been well publicized in the media. Dr. Zheng Chen’s strategy to enhance battery safety was to engineer a nickel nanoparticle embedded plastic to create a temperature controlled barrier inside the battery. This thin layer of plastic expands when it heats up, which causes the nanoparticles to move away from each other and cuts off the flow of electricity. If the battery gets too hot it will automatically turn itself off instead of degrading and catching fire! This technology will be ready to incorporate into commercial practices in a matter of years.

The opioid crisis is another great challenge that is hitting New England especially hard. Nationwide, there are an estimated 42,000 opioid overdose deaths each year. The majority of people who overdose started their addiction with legally prescribed medications. The medicinal chemistry session on “Novel Treatments for Chronic Pain” showcased several strategies to design pain medications without neither the addictive nor physiologically harmful effects of current therapies. Dr. Laura Bohn presented her work on teasing apart the molecular actions of the μ opioid receptor (MOR). MOR has two discreet functions: shutting down neural transmission of pain signals and activating a protein called β-arrestin. She found that β-arrestin is responsible for most of the bad effects of opioids like brain stem depression and increasing opioid tolerance. Using new drugs that only activated the pain cessation signaling, but not β-arrestin, was able to treat pain in mice with a greatly enhanced therapeutic window. Dr. Roger Kroes presented work on targeting a different receptor in the brain, NMDA. NMDA is a master regulator of creating new synapses in the brain. He designed a new drug to activate NMDA to modulate neuropathic pain signaling, treating pain for up to two weeks following a single dose. The NMDA activator had a few novel side effects in mice: increased memory and learning. Not all side effects need to be bad!  These new chemical approaches will hopefully bring safe and effective pain relief to millions of Americans that struggle with pain on a daily basis.

In addition to scientific talks, ACS organized several professional development workshops such as how to lead organizational change, improve interviewing skills, write grants, and find jobs in various career paths. If you are a member, a number of these workshops and other resources can be found online at ACS.org!