A colleague asked me to sign on to an NIH grant she’s writing. I agreed, but realized my biosketch was way out of date. A biosketch is like a cross between a CV and a science personal ad. Mine was a few years old. Anyway, nowadays they want a “statement of purpose.” I went a little off the rails, and started to leave behind the PI, professional scientist lingo:
A. Personal Statement
I am a physical biochemist that studies protein structure, function, folding, stability, and ligand binding, but my research interests and expertise also include fermentation bio- and analytical chemistry, and yeast proteomics. My initial experiences with science were as a student researcher at a primarily undergraduate institution, The Evergreen State College. After graduate school and a postdoc, I found my way to another PUI to share my passion for hypothesis driven science with undergraduates. I am convinced that an introduction to hands-on research is the best way to ignite in students a love of learning that will help them develop their own goals as well as figure out how to accomplish them. I love watching my students grow into independent scholars, and I consider it my role to shelter and nurture them on their way. I provide a physical and intellectual infrastructure for them to grow out of, or anyway grow beyond. I provide students with a series of basic questions, and train them in the basic skills they need to address those problems. Whether they are solving a protein structure by x-ray crystallography, defining a protein’s dimerization equilibrium or hydrogen-exchange dynamics by NMR, trying to correlate fermentation products with proteomics changes, or simply trying to develop a new teaching lab project, my students are trained in a hypothesis-driven approach that will allow the to address any problem.
I take students at all levels, from freshman to senior, and I am experienced in gauging what kind of project is most appropriate for a given individual. I offer projects to students of all levels of preparation, interest, and focus, with the conviction that part of my job is to create scientists, and that the best way to do that is to get the actually practicing science, instead of memorizing facts. To that end, much of my research is designed intentionally to interface with the classroom and teaching laboratory, and I have made a habit of converting as many of the Chemistry Department’s courses as possible to a research-focused format.
I’ll use this money to mentor additional students. I have the space, expertise, motivation, and inclination for this project; it is my life’s work. My students will work on understanding the folding and stability of a bacterial copper chaperone CusF, using a variety of physical techniques including NMR, fluorescence and circular dichroism spectroscopy, ultracentrifugation, and many others. Students will also undertake the proteomic characterization of brewing strains of yeast by 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis, and correlate what they find with metabolomic profiles of those organisms by headspace SPME-GCMS and, soon, LC-MS. They will work to become independent, but also to support and collaborate with each other as labmates, and they will learn the importance of disseminating their work products in presentations, posters, and research publications.
C. Contributions to Science
Of my graduate work, I am proudest of the work I did in characterizing the native state dynamics of T4 Lysozyme. My colleagues and I found that there are concerted, hierarchical structural fluctuations that suggest its two domains behave quite independently of one another. That paper has 104 citations currently, and is considered a critical paper in this field: Nat Struct Biol. 1999 6(11):1072-8
As a postdoc, I showed that at the coldest accessible solution conditions, a target protein showed no evidence of a rugged folding energy landscape, controverting the expectation that proteins must fold along a complex path. Moreover, the protein I used was a designed protein from Steve Mayo’s group at Caltech; the protein folded fast and strictly exponentially, even though there had been no natural selection that could have ‘found’ the smooth way through the landscape. That paper has 38 citations: PNAS 2000 97(22): 12014.
Even after I took on the lecturer position at CSU Channel Islands in 2003, I stayed very active in Kevin Plaxco’s group at UC Santa Barbara, publishing 3 more papers. One of these was an Annual Reviews of Biochemistry chapter exploring the state of the folding kinetics field that has 66 citations: Annu Rev Biochem. 2004 73:837-59
After entering the tenure-track at a PUI, though I have a heavy load of teaching and University commitments, I have continued to be an active scholar. As I continue to shepherd my own scholarly projects to fruition, I have partnered with colleagues at CSU Channel Islands and beyond to develop projects for undergraduate teaching, and to include undergraduate in the pursuit and publication of original research. My J. Chem. Educ. Paper from 2010, published with graduate school comrade Will Deutschman, highlights my focus on the student experience and, though it has only 4 citations, has proven to be an important resource and inspiration for biochemistry teachers nationwide: J. Chem. Educ., 2010, 87(11):1244–1247. A more recent paper was as a coauthor with with my colleague, the noted whale ecologist Rachel Cartwright, and includes a student author, and has already received 9 citations: PLoS ONE 2012 7(5): e38004.
All this work shows how focused I am on finding more and new ways to bring students to science, from the classroom, to the research lab, to the publication. And I do this with the tools, intellectual rigor, and peer-reviewed outcomes any scientist expects. My contribution to science, though, transcends the expectations of most research scientists, as I view my love of questions to be organically tied to my love to teaching; my undergraduate students are organically linked to my process, and they have become my most important outcome and contribution.
…. so, federal granting agency, would you give me your money so I can go on polluting young minds?