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Education / Graduate Education / PhD Programs / Toxicology / People / Student Perspectives

 

Student Perspectives

Jakob

Jakob Gunderson

Hometown: Houston, TX

Education Background (undergraduate major(s), masters degrees, etc.):

  • 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.

Alyssa

Alyssa Merrill

Hometown: Cassadaga, NY

Education Background (undergraduate major(s), masters degrees, etc.):

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

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.

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.

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.

Candace WongCandace Wong  

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Education Background:

  • B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a Minor in Chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Group: Elder Lab

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

There are many aspects of my training that I have enjoyed, but what I have enjoyed the most are the connections I’ve made here while in the program. I get to create and build relationships with fellow students, administrators, faculty, and alumni. Everyone is so open and welcoming that it’s easy to form collaborations, make friends, or get help when I need it. The network of connections that I’ve made here makes me feel supported on both an academic and personal level.

What is your research focus?

In the field of nanotoxicology, many studies exploring nanoparticle biodistribution do so in healthy animal models. My research focuses on how environmental exposures and disease state can damage barrier integrity and ultimately alter nanoparticle biodistribution in the body. In particular, I am exploring how disease-related neuroinflammation and ambient ultrafine particulates from air pollution can alter nanoparticle biodistribution, particularly to the brain. These findings can build on the growing literature on nanoparticle dosimetry and aid in better understanding the association of ambient ultrafine particulate exposures with adverse effects in the central nervous system.

What do you like to do in Rochester?

In my free time I like to dance and perform with a troupe around the Rochester area. It’s a great way to take a break from lab work and have fun with friends outside of the program.