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Student Perspectives

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6th Year

JasmineJasmine Reed

Hometown: Chesterfield, VA

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Engineering Science with a concentration in Nanomedicine from the University of Virginia
  • Post-baccalaureate Research and Education Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Susiarjo Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have enjoyed developing my independent thinking and research skills. My project has evolved during my training. That evolution has required overcoming the challenges of my research taking on a new direction and troubleshooting experiments which has been very rewarding.

What is your research focus?

My project entails elucidating mechanisms underlying pregnancy loss that is associated with maternal exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These mechanisms involve epigenetic dysregulation of an imprinted gene called Ido1, which is a key regulator of maternal-fetal immune tolerance.

What do you like to do in Rochester?  

I enjoy attending the various cultural and art festivals that happen throughout the year.

5th Year

AbstonKadijah Abston

Hometown: Gulfport, MS

Education Background:

  • B.A. in Biochemistry with a Minor in Biology from University of Mississippi
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Li Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have enjoyed several aspects of my training process, but I have especially enjoyed the abundant opportunities for collaborations and how the environment promotes the development of my independent thinking and research skills. I have been given the wonderful chance to innovatively combine the techniques within reproductive biology, developmental toxicology, epigenetics, along with next generation sequencing. Working in such an interdisciplinary manner has helped me develop the ability to design and carryout research independently.

What is your research focus? 

Recent evidence has shown that lead (Pb) exposure impacts anxiety-like behavioral paradigms and stress hormone levels in adult female mice several generations after the exposure has ceased. These effects appear to be driven by the male ancestors. Current research in the field of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance has revealed that sperm RNAs carry information across generations, which is sufficient for initiating altered phenotypes in offspring in models of chronic stress, maternal stress and unpredictable separation, and paternal high fat/low protein diets. My research focuses on 1) elucidating the impact of Pb exposure on the sperm RNA repertoire and 2) determining the effect sperm RNAs have on early embryo RNA expression profiles. The information carried by the sperm RNAs and its effects in the early embryo may contribute to phenotypes observed in adulthood. This is a public health concern as there are no effective therapeutics for lead poisoning and I hope to identify RNAs in the male germline or early embryo that may be utilized for therapeutics in the future.

What do you like to do in Rochester?  

I really enjoy the music and arts scene in Rochester. There are several cultural and art festivals that happen throughout the year that I always attend. There are also plenty of opportunities to watch shows at Geva Theatre or Rochester Broadway Theatre League. I try to attend at least one or two shows a year. I also take advantage of every chance I receive to watch live music or perform music at various venues. Among the different art museums and art galleries such as Memorial Art Gallery, Artisan Works, and Hungerford there is always interesting art to view as well. Furthermore, I also enjoy finding new places to walk, hike, and relax such as Corbett’s Glen or the numerous parks. There is never a dull moment for me in Rochester.

FieldsAshley Fields

Hometown: Alexandria, KY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biology with Minor in Chemistry from Bellarmine University
  • M.S. in Toxicology from University of Rochester School Of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group:  Susiarjo Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I really enjoy having control over my project and having an extremely supportive mentor. Having control over my project has really helped my critical thinking skills and gives me a different perspective on my project.

What is your research focus?

The short and sweet summary of my research focus is “nutritional and environmental modulators on the Tryptophan-Serotonin pathway and their role in maternal metabolic health”. My project focus is understanding the role of vitamin B6 in maternal glucose homeostasis, a topic that has been left uninvestigated since the 1970s. Although vitamin B6 deficiency is highly prevalent in the United States, the sole cause of this deficiency is unlikely to be dietary. With that being said, we are also looking at environmental insults that may influence maternal metabolic health.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

I enjoy going through the antique stores around the area, along with attending all of the local summer festivals.

AshleyAshley Rackow

Hometown: La Crosse, WI

Education Background:

  • B.A.’s in Chemistry, Psychology and Spanish from Coe College
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Kottmann Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I truly enjoy the University of Rochester community. I think we have an amazing group of trainees which foster a supportive and collaborative environment.

What is your research focus?

My project examines how cells sense and respond to changes in extracellular pH. Our lab group has a translational focus, so I mainly study how alterations in pH can potentiate or exacerbate chronic and/or acute lung disease, with a particular focus on pulmonary fibrosis.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

Rochester has a lot of different festivals in the spring and summer. Personally, my favorite are the art vendors, I am always impressed by how many great local artists we have in this area.

KeeganKeegan Vaughan

Hometown: Duarte, CA

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Microbiology with Minor in Environmental Toxicology from University of California at Davis
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Lawrence Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have enjoyed many aspects of my training here at the University of Rochester. From the exposure to new and exciting research being conducted to the social events. Truly, I have enjoyed many things during my training, but the thing I enjoy most is the support that comes from fellow students, faculty, administrators, and alumni.

What is your research focus?

My research revolves around better understanding the interplay between the environment and hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs). Specifically, my research revolves around the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), a ligand activated environment sensing transcription factor, in regulating HSPC expansion and differentiation. This research not only furthers our understanding of how HSPCs respond to environmental signals, but understanding how exposure to exogenous AHR ligands alters normal HSPC function.  

What do you like to do in Rochester?

I like going to the numerous festivals during the spring and summer. Additionally, going to the farmers market in Rochester is always nice!

4th Year

TimTim Anderson

Hometown: Houston, TX

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biology from Austin College
  • M.S. in Integrative Biology from Oklahoma State University
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Cory-Slechta Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

The supportive community of students and faculty in the Toxicology Training Program.

What is your research focus?

I study the neurotoxicity of inhaled pesticides, an often overlooked mode of exposure.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

My favorite activity is cycling around Rochester.

BellTyler J. Bell

Hometown: Lima, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biochemistry from SUNY Geneseo
  • M.S. in Toxicology from University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Kottmann Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

The Toxicology Training Program provides a unique environment for scientific collaboration. Coming from a background in biochemistry, I chose toxicology as a way to apply my understanding of the basic science in a meaningful way. My work has allowed me to learn from, work, and communicate with medical professionals, patients, epidemiologists, virologists, cGMP engineers, pharmacologists, neuroscientists, and more. This unique environment allows for both a broad understanding of the toxicological sciences and a focused specialty. 

What is your research focus?

Myofibroblast differentiation stimulated by transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) is generally accepted to play a pivotal role in the development and progression of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Our lab has focused on the proton sensing G-protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR) GPR68 (OGR1) as a negative regulator of myofibroblast differentiation. My work focuses on intracellular signaling generated through stimulation of GPR68, and how these signals disrupt canonical and/or non-canonical TGF-β signaling. Identification of the mechanisms through which GPR68 stimulation inhibits myofibroblast differentiation will significantly enhance our understanding of both the pathology of pulmonary fibrosis and basic cellular mechanisms through which these processes occur. As there are common mechanisms of fibrosis throughout the body, this project may also be applicable to the pathophysiology of fibrosis in other organ systems including the heart, liver, eye, and kidney.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

Go to live music, patronize our many excellent restaurants, cook, golf, cycle, ski, and spend time in the Finger Lakes region.

CubelloJanine Cubello

Hometown: Youngstown, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biochemistry from Niagara University
  • M.S. in Toxicology from University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Mayer-Pröschel Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have really enjoyed all of the opportunities to practice communicating my own research effectively in various public speaking formats (i.e. seminars, retreats, and conferences). Additionally, during my training thus far I highly value the opportunities to hear from and interact with past alumni and invited keynote speakers. It’s really unique and amazing to be able to just talk with these well-known researchers about their career journeys and gain insight on the steps they took for success. Considering many of them sat in our shoes years ago and have really done amazing things with their doctorate since, it’s a nice perspective check.

What is your research focus?

My research investigates the impacts of prenatal lead exposure and maternal iron deficiency on neurodevelopment, specifically from a glial perspective.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

Rochester has a little of everything for just about anyone. Being an outdoorsy person, I like to explore all of the numerous parks and hidden gems Rochester has to offer. If I’m not riding my bike or running in a local park, I’m finding new fishing spots and hiking in areas just a short car ride away.

Jakob Gunderson

Jakob

Hometown: Mont Belvieu, TX

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biology with Minors in Biochemistry and Environmental Studies from Baylor University
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Rand Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have thoroughly enjoyed strengthening my critical and independent thinking skills during my graduate education here in the Toxicology Training Program. Continual exposure to interdisciplinary coursework and lab experiences have challenged me to examine toxicological questions and scenarios through multiple lenses, allowing me to feel confident when pursing my own independent research.

What is your research focus?

Methylmercury (MeHg) is a pervasive environmental toxicant, best known to disrupt the developing nervous system and causing neuromotor and neurocognitive deficits in adolescent children. Our lab previously discovered that developing muscle may be a novel direct target of MeHg, potentially contributing the neuromotor deficits. Using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, my research examines the ability to moderate the neuro- and myotoxicity of MeHg through the Nrf2 antioxidant pathway, with particular attention in rescuing either muscle or neuron development and the resulting impact on specific neuromuscular events.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

I enjoy getting outside! There are countless trails and parks within Rochester that are easy and fun to explore via walking or biking. Also, not too far from Rochester are some great natural wonders, such as Niagara Falls, Letchworth State Park, and Watkins Glen. There are hidden gems all throughout the Finger Lakes that are only a short drive away. You can never run out of places to explore in Upstate New York.

ConnorConnor McGuire

Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Education Background: 

  • B.S. in Environmental Studies from Elmira College
  • M.S. in Environmental Health Sciences from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Robert Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have most enjoyed the strong sense of community and belonging in our program. The students go out of their way to support each-other ranging from mentorship between the students, feedback from seminars and practice chalk-talks, and even just arranging social events for the students. I’ve also appreciated that the department encourages us to meet with visiting speakers to learn more about different academic and non-academic career paths, and that we’re given ample opportunities to present our research internally through our seminar series and the annual toxicology retreat, as well as at national conferences.

What is your research focus?

My research focuses on the role of environmentally relevant endocrine disrupting chemicals with putative anti-thyroid effects on T cell development in Xenopus laevis, an amphibian model organism. We specifically study a mixture of chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas extraction, which is well known to contaminate nearby surface and ground-water by wastewater run-off. My work uses this mixture to address multiple questions: 1) how can these chemicals interfere with thyroid function during tadpole-stage development, which is dependent on thyroid hormones, 2) how these chemicals alter T cell development acutely within the tadpole thymus, and 3) what are the long term effects of these chemicals on anti-viral and transplant rejection immune responses in frogs following developmental exposure?

What do you like to do in Rochester?

In Rochester I really like to explore the local restaurant and microbrewery scenes. It really feels like there are new places to visit and try out all the time. My favorite Rochester event is the Lilac Festival, a 10 day event in May that celebrates the blooming of lilacs, and features great street food, live music performances and wine tasting events.

PalmerMackenzie Palmer

Hometown: Oswego, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Chemistry from SUNY Potsdam
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Finkelstein Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I have really enjoyed the community of our department. Everyone has always made me feel welcomed and supported. I have also loved developing and progressing my research, and growing as a scientist, which all stem from the great education I’ve been given, and continue to receive from our department.

What is your research focus?

My research focuses on alternatively activated macrophages in Radiation-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis (RIPF). Alternatively activated macrophages are known to contribute to the progression of RIPF; however, how they become alternatively activated is still unknown. I am currently investigating metabolic alterations within RIPF, and their effects on the polarization of alternatively activated macrophages. 

What do you like to do in Rochester?

I love trying new restaurants and breweries in Rochester. The food scene here is amazing, with there being so many small, locally owned businesses. I also enjoy exploring the areas around Rochester. There are many beautiful parks in and around the city, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as biking and hiking.

AshleyAshley Peppriell

Hometown: East Aurora, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biochemistry from SUNY Geneseo
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Rand Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

I really appreciate the multitude of opportunities trainees have to practice public speaking and communicate their research. I think science communication is something that any researcher can become great at with repetition and good feedback – and I’m fortunate to have both in this program! I’ve enjoyed watching my peers (and myself!) improve this skill year after year.

What is your research focus?

I investigate mechanisms of muscle development that are susceptible to methylmercury toxicity using the fruit fly model organism.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

I love the variety of places that Rochester has to run, bike, and explore. As a marathon runner, I value the accessibility of our running spaces like the Genesee River trail, the Erie Canal path, Mendon Ponds Park, and Lehigh Valley trail, to name a few. They’re all so different, and it’s fun to change it up!

3rd Year

IanIan Krout

Hometown: Bucks County, PA

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Environmental Science and Assessment with a Minor in Biology from Marist College

Research Group: Rand Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

So far during my training I have enjoyed the range of interdisciplinary aspects to my research, highlighted during classes and seminar speakers as well as in my day to day work in the lab. I love the ability to approach a problem from several different angles to find the most creative and rationale way to answer the question. I have enjoyed the range of techniques, assays, and equipment I have learned to use, and I appreciate the ability to take on projects as my own, driving the direction through creative problem solving techniques.

What is your research focus?

In the lab my interests lie in both methylmercury toxicity as well as the gut microbiomes role in the field of toxicology. My research is focused on elucidating the microbial mechanisms of the gut that give rise to inter-individual differences in methylmercury elimination from person to person. It is focused on investigating the bacterial species at play in the microbiome, the mechanisms used for biotransformation, and what this means for the overall elimination rate and subsequent toxicity of differing mercury compounds.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

There are so many things I love about the Rochester community. In the summers I like to attend the Lilac, Park Ave, Jazz, and Corn Hill Festivals, as well as get a round of golf in at the numerous greens nearby. In the winters I enjoy hitting the ski slopes and visiting the museums downtown. Year round I love going out to experience the great restaurants and local breweries the area has to offer.

LucasJoseph Lucas

Hometown: San Antonio, TX

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Toxicology with a Minor in Statistics from the Pennsylvania State University

Research Group: Irfan Rahman Lab

Alyssa Merrill

Alyssa

Hometown: Cassadaga, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biology with Minors in Chemistry, Gerontology, Pre-Med, and Psychology, Nazareth College

Research Group: Cory-Slechta and Sobolewski Labs

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

The breath of information the coursework exposes you to. Having a broad interdisciplinary coursework aids in the determination of where to rotate as a first-year student by allowing you to find labs that align with interests you might have not been aware of or even known was an active area of research.

What is your research focus?

The physiological changes a woman undergoes during pregnancy leave her uniquely susceptible to environmental exposures, yet, maternal health remains an understudied area in toxicology. Epidemiological research has shown women exposed to high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) during pregnancy have a greater likelihood of developing gestational diabetes, drastically increasing their chances of being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in the next decade. My research investigates the impact an exposure to a carefully curated mixture of EDCs during pregnancy has on a woman’s long-term metabolic and neurobehavioral health. My research addresses direct mechanisms of EDC exposure on glucose tolerance and behavioral assays used as models for anxiety and depression.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

Discovering the shops throughout Rochester. Rochester has a vast array of small business that produce everything from homemade pasta to jewelry. I never bore of seeing the creativity the area has to offer.

EmilyEmily Quarato

Hometown: Westchester, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in Chemical Education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham

Research Group: Calvi Lab

What have you enjoyed the most about your training thus far?

The Toxicology Training Program has fostered an environment that has allowed me to by improve my scientific thinking and communication skills, expand my network with fellow students, faculty, and alumni, and connected me with a supportive community.

What is your research focus?

The hematopoietic system is extremely sensitive to toxic chemicals and hematopoietic failure is one of the leading causes of mortality following acute injury. The Calvi Lab focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the bone microenvironment in regulation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) in the bone marrow. My work focuses on understanding the consequences to and mitigation strategies of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a component of the bone marrow microenvironment that support HSCs, following radiation injury.  

What do you like to do in Rochester?

I am a big foodie, so I love that Rochester has given me the option to try new foods. I also love the visit the Public Market, which is a great place to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables!

AlexAlexandra Strohm

Hometown: Bloomfield Hills, MI

Education Background:

  • B.S in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a Minor in Pharmacology and Toxicology from Michigan State University

Research Group: Noble Lab

2nd Year

Beamish

Catherine Beamish

Hometown: Syracuse, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Chemistry with a focus in Biochemistry and a Minor in Mathematics from Washington University in St. Louis

Why did you chose to come to the University of Rochester?

I was drawn to the University of Rochester because of its focus on integration of clinical and basic sciences. I enjoyed the collaboration felt throughout all levels of the medical center. Additionally, being from Syracuse, and going to undergrad so far away, it is a very nice change to be so close to home and to be able to stay connected with family. 

Kristina FennerFenner

Hometown: Howard, PA

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biochemistry from Susquehanna University

Why did you chose to come to the University of Rochester?

I chose the University of Rochester for both the research and the inclusive atmosphere. I could easily see myself growing under the mentorship of the faculty and current students.

SarahSarah Morgan

Hometown: Webster, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Chemistry and Forensic & Investigative Sciences with a minor in Biology from West Virginia University

Why did you chose to come to the University of Rochester?

I chose to attend the University of Rochester for my graduate studies because they offer a high caliber training program full of welcoming people. Additionally, the program is located in a city that has a lot to offer and is close to my family.

TraciTraci Pressley

Hometown: New Cumberland, PA

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Forensics from the University of the Sciences

Why did you chose to come to the University of Rochester?

I chose the U of R not just for the valuable education I knew I would receive here, but also the amazing people that make up this program. When I came for my interview, the friendly atmosphere, genuine people, and amazing research captured my heart and I knew that this was my home.

1st Year

Victoria Dahm

Hometown: Berlin, MA

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Chemistry from DeSales University

Why did you choose to come to the University of Rochester?

I chose the University of Rochester for graduate school because of the reputation of their Toxicology Training Program and to take advantage of their multidisciplinary training. In addition, I really enjoyed my visit during the Interview Weekend and felt that this program was the best fit for me as everyone was very welcoming.

Melanie Perkins

Hometown:  Warsaw, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S in Forensic Science Technology from Alfred State College

Why did you choose to come to the University of Rochester?

I chose to come to the University of Rochester for the impressive research opportunities it has to offer, and for the wonderful support network within the program. The faculty and students are very welcoming and supportive. The location is great too!

Elizabeth Plunk

Hometown: Martin, TN

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Biology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Why did you choose to come to the University of Rochester?

I chose the University of Rochester because of the research and the people. I originally applied to U of R because of the reputation of the Toxicology Training Program. I knew if given the opportunity to join the program I would have an incredible opportunity to learn under amazing scientists and that this would set me up for diverse career opportunities when the time comes. When visiting Rochester over interview weekend, I met the most genuine faculty and students, and felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. Due to this, it wasn’t really even a choice. 

Adelaide Weidner

Hometown: Rochester, NY

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Chemistry, SUNY Geneseo

Why did you chose to come to the University of Rochester?

I was attracted to the University of Rochester’s prestigious reputation, and I knew I wanted to do my doctorate here after my experiences as an undergraduate researcher at URMC over the summer sessions. It’s also nice to stay close to home! I love Rochester and I’m looking forward to living here for five more years.