Eight NIEHS postbaccalaureate (postbac) fellows presented their research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postbac Poster Day in Bethesda, Maryland. They were joined by nearly 700 postbacs from 23 other NIH institutes and centers for the May 4 event.
NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., encouraged the NIEHS postbacs to participate in the event. "One of the most important strategic goals at NIEHS is to train the next generation of environmental health scientists," he said. "Our postbac program exemplifies this effort. It was wonderful that so many of our outstanding postbac trainees traveled to the main campus in Bethesda to network with trainees at other institutes and to present their research findings to NIH scientists."
Five of the NIEHS fellows — Sagi Gillera, Thomas Hagler, Beruk Kiros, Emily Mesev, and J. Tyler Ramsey — received travel awards from the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education to attend.
Wide range of research
The NIH Postbac Program immerses recent college graduates in full-time research for up to 3 years, in preparation for graduate or professional school. The annual Postbac Poster Day allows postbacs to present their work, network with peers, and learn about the wide variety of research conducted across NIH.
Within NIEHS, postbac research varies tremendously, encompassing everything from basic science to clinical research to quantitative biology. Hagler presented work from his fellowship in the Knockout Core, where he used CRISPR gene editing technology to generate genetically modified organisms.
Lauren Carlson and Ramsey both presented posters about development during puberty. Carlson has been conducting clinical research to explore the link between obesity and early puberty in girls. With a very different approach, Ramsey has been using molecular techniques to show how lavender and tea tree oils affect pre-pubescent boys.
"There are 50 to 60 different components in these oils, so we picked some of the most concentrated ones, and some that are common between the two," explained Ramsey. "Almost all the ones we chose can activate the estrogen receptor that causes prepubertal gynecotmastia [or enlarged male breasts]."
Three fellows represented the National Toxicology Program (NTP) — Gillera, Trey Saddler, and Kiros. Gillera presented research about the molecular pathways involved in obesity caused by the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.
The projects by Saddler and Kiros focused more on computational techniques. Saddler, who presented a quantitative comparison of two algae toxins, hopes that his group's work will lead to improved screening techniques for various compounds. Kiros has been using text-mining systems for literature analysis. "The idea is to use the software to identify the literature and what is known about environmental chemicals and their effects on the thyroid," he explained.
Preparing for the future
The fellows all spoke very highly about the value of the event and the postbac program in general. All eight plan to attend either graduate or professional school after their fellowship ends.
Gillera will start a toxicology Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University this fall. "The postbac program has allowed me to gain hands on experience during this transitional period and prepared me for my future career in graduate school," she said.
Samantha Hall, who will soon begin a Ph.D. program at Duke University’s Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program agreed. "Doing a postbac is probably the best decision I’ve made for my career."
Hagler, who is in the process of applying to graduate schools, credits the postbac program with helping to shape his career. "I have been lucky to experience so many aspects of scientific research," he said. "I've used this opportunity to explore career paths and decide which direction would be best for me."
(Emily Mesev is an Intramural Research Training Award postbaccalaureate fellow in the NIEHS Intracellular Regulation Group.)