INBT Seminar: the graduate school admissions process

The next professional development seminar hosted by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology will be held Wednesday, June 18 at 10:30 a.m. in the Schaffer 3 Auditorium. The speaker is Maya Suraj, new Director of Graduate Admissions and Enrollment for Arts & Sciences and Engineering at the Homewood campus.

Maya Suraj

Maya Suraj

Prior to Hopkins, she was at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she focused on streamlining the graduate process. This included making the graduate office proficient in credential evaluation, redesigning workflows, integrating technology and developing recruitment plans. Suraj will talk to the students about the graduate admissions process from cradle to grave, best practices and tips. A Q&A will follow.

This seminar is free and open to the Hopkins community, but an RSVP is required to Danielle Tiggle at

Changing advisors, even disciplines, in graduate school

You’ve heard the old saying, “Don’t change horses in midstream.” But in graduate school, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Changing horses mid-game? Not so bad.

Changing horses mid-game? Not so bad.

Changing advisors part way through your graduate career can happen for several different reasons, but regardless of the cause, treat the change as an opportunity. Although you may initially think it is, it is not even remotely the end of the world. It is tempting to be influenced by external messages and think that there is a single right way to go about the journey of doctoral education, that there is no room for mistakes, and that you have to know exactly what you want to do from the beginning of your education. All three of these tropes are wrong.

I have changed research directions twice in my time as a graduate student, first changing from a Physics lab to a Biology lab to pursue more biological interests combined with physics, and then changing to a Biophysics lab when my advisor in biology left for a tenured position at a different institution. When I changed from a Biology to a Biophysics lab, skills in protein purification and NMR spectroscopy were transferable, but even in the extreme case that you change fields so drastically that nothing overlaps, just having previously gone through the process of learning techniques can make you better at it the next time. I think that these moves across disciplines and labs have improved my capacity to synthesize knowledge and skills, and to be adaptable.

Different unplanned circumstances, such as not getting into a certain lab, an advisor leaving the institution, or your interests and skills changing, may open an unexpected path that you can take with much happiness and productivity. I think it is unlikely that there is exactly and only one field or activity is right for a given person, and changing circumstances can be embraced as a way to pursue new or different interests. I applied to Hopkins excited to study astrophysics; I’m thrilled to now be making a career in protein science.

Dan Richman is a PhD candidate in Physics working in Bertrand Garcia-Moreno’s lab in the Department of Biophysics.

Academic research internships are for grad students too

Cell migration assays

Before enrolling in the PhD program in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins, I didn’t know that academic internships were available for graduate students. When I was an undergraduate, I spent one summer working at a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Iowa State University. REU programs are paid research internships that are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and hosted by universities throughout the country, and they are well-advertised by academic advisors. They provide great opportunities for undergraduate students to see what full-time research in an academic setting is like before committing to graduate school. My undergraduate research experiences were instrumental as I made the decision to apply to PhD programs.

However, I didn’t realize that similar opportunities would be available once I’d entered grad school. I was very excited to learn that INBT offers an International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program that is open to both graduate and undergraduate students. This program offers an incredible opportunity to work internationally. By partnering with the Inter-University MicroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, Belgium, INBT gives students the chance to work in IMECs microfabrication facilities to develop biomedical devices. They have incredible fabrication facilities at IMEC, and students traveling there learn a lot about how microelectronics manufacturing techniques can be translated to answer biological questions.

Leuven pic-web

In July and August of 2013, I visited IMEC to work on using new imaging techniques to study cell migration. We are trying to make cell motility studies easy, affordable, and high-throughput. Time-lapse motility experiments are typically limited to labs focused on cell motility because they require expensive microscopes and specialized equipment. Therefore, not every lab that cultures cells can perform these experiments, even though tests of cell motility can tell researchers a lot about other cellular behavior.

At IMEC, I worked on using an affordable imager that could be placed directly in cell culture incubators to study cells in wound healing, random motility, microcontact printing migration, and microchannel migration assays. We had some promising early results, and our collaboration is continuing. The internship provided me exposure to techniques I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, and I learned a lot about building collaborations with other researchers.

Colin Paul is a fourth-year PhD student in the laboratory of Konstantinos Konstantopoulos in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Institute for NanoBioTechnology.