Collaboration, Mentorship Lead Student to Research Success

| Comments (0)

By Dawn Dorsey, Staff Writer

In science, both as a discipline and as a career, collaboration and connections are key.

sm_McCrea_Hong2.jpgWant to test that hypothesis? Just ask Ji Yeon Hong, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science (GSBS) program at M. D. Anderson.

Hong, a student researcher in the lab of Pierre McCrea, Ph.D., recently co-authored a study that was published as a full article in the journal Nature. McCrea is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology..

"Fun and strange connections happen frequently in science," McCrea says. "For example, one might suddenly come to realize the research at hand is somehow intimately connected to earlier seemingly distinct work. Through collaboration and making the most of connections, these young researchers made a discovery that wasn't on anyone's radar screen."

Partnership Spawns New Interests

When Hong came to M. D. Anderson in 2005, she met Jae-il Park, Ph.D., then a GSBS student in McCrea's lab. They worked together for five months, developing a friendship and strong professional relationship.

Park moved on to a post-doctoral position at Stanford University, where he studies telomerase, a riboprotein complex that protects the integrity of chromosome ends. Defective telomerase may contribute to aging diseases and cancer.

From his graduate work at M. D. Anderson, Park knew the Wnt signaling pathway is central in development of cancer. Then, during his Stanford postdoctoral work in the lab of Steven Artandi, M.D., Ph.D., Park discovered the telomerase protein component TERT (telomerase reverse transcriptase) interacts with the gene BRG1 to activate Wnt- dependent gene promoters in cultured cells and mice.

To strengthen his findings, Park asked his friend and former colleague Hong to perform his experiments in frogs.

"I was a little worried his previous results might not be shown in frogs," Hong admits. "But when I finally got the data, I was so happy that I immediately ran to Dr. McCrea's office and showed him the results."

Although McCrea's lab doesn't usually study telomerase, this research opened a new avenue of scientific investigation for Hong.

"The Wnt signaling pathway is a very interesting topic, and it plays several roles in the development of cancer," she says. "I want to study more about it while I'm at M. D. Anderson, as well as during my future career."

Communication Is Essential

Hong and Park soon will submit another paper in which she's first author and he's second. McCrea says the friendship and scientific collaboration between the young researchers has opened new doors for both of them.

"Graduate school is a great time to develop relationships of this kind," he says.

McCrea's lab, which has been student-based for several years, includes five GSBS students and one post-doctoral researcher. High on the list of skills he imparts to them is effective professional communication. They write publications, organize figures and respond point-by-point to reviewer comments after submitting articles to journals. All under his watchful eye, of course.

"Fifty percent of being a good scientist is communication," he says. "One of the big lessons of graduate school is that you ultimately will be trying to put yourself in a competitive position, and effective communication is a big part of that."

Hong describes McCrea as a supportive, patient and active mentor.

"When I first joined this lab, I asked Dr. McCrea to tell me the most important thing that I need to learn during my Ph.D. degree," she says. "He told me it's critical thinking and the ability to see the big picture in my projects.

"Whenever I lose my critical thinking, have a failed experiment or blame my technique for an unsuccessful experiment, he guides me to think about my hypothesis and finally see the big picture."

Leave a comment


Connect on social media

Sign In