My transition from graduate student to postdoc has not followed the most traditional route. As often happens, the last few years of my graduate tenure were the most productive and yielded the two most exciting discoveries of my thesis work, which focused on bacterial motility and chemotaxis in the squid light-organ symbiont Vibrio fischeri. These projects, including a new collaboration with Sandy Parkinson at the University of Utah, were just gaining a foothold when I defended, and I really wanted to follow them through with my own hands. Hence, I decided to remain in Ned Ruby’s lab for another 10 months after the completion of my Ph.D. in order to develop these projects to a point where another lab member could not just take them over, but allow them to flourish.
In many ways, this brief appointment has been the best of all worlds, giving me the ability to focus exclusively on research, but without the immediate pressures of entering a new lab as a postdoc (ie. learning to work with a different organism, acclimating to lab dynamics, living in an unknown city, to name a few). It has really brought me back to the bench in a way I missed during the end of my time as a graduate student while I was focused on writing my thesis and reminded me why I love experimental science.
Even such an idyllic position, cannot last forever. So, I also spent some of this time considering where to focus my energies in the search for a full postdoc appointment. My time at the University of Wisconsin strengthened my interest in understanding the dynamic relationships between hosts and the bacteria around them. Rather than taking the bacterial perspective and seeking to characterize specificity determinants and other colonization factors as we do in Ned’s lab, I decided to focus on labs that look at the other side of the coin; that is, I wanted to join a lab that investigates how the host responds to the bacteria it encounters as part of its normal lifestyle. I considered several immunology and host-related positions, in labs that study both invertebrate and vertebrate model systems across the US and Europe. Ultimately, I elected to join the lab of Wendy Garrett at the Harvard School of Public Health, where I will be starting a position in December to investigate the mechanisms underlying how Fusobacterium species, normal constituents of the oral microbiota, contribute to colorectal cancer.
My graduate time at the UW has really shaped how I think about interactions between hosts and their associated microbes, particularly as influenced by the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology, the Symbiosis Cluster, and the Microbes in Health and Disease training grant. As I progress in my career I will keep this training in mind as I hone this perspective and apply it to the scientific questions I seek to answer.