When Heidi Hafemann and Andrew Malaby met in 2007 as first-year students at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, they both shared a passion for scientific research. By the end of second year, they had discovered other mutual interests: reading, hiking and each other.
Married in 2011 and about to be hooded as Doctors of Philosophy in the Program in Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology at Commencement 2014, the Malabys are pursuing postdoctoral fellowships that will build on their GSBS training, help prepare them for their next career moves—and share neighboring zip codes as they begin a new chapter in their life together.
“Having someone who understands when you work late to finish an experiment, or get up early to begin one, is incredibly important to me,” said Andrew Malaby, who works in the lab of David Lambright, PhD. Heidi Malaby works in the lab of William Kobertz, PhD.
Both Malabys are seeking traditional postdoctoral fellowships, with their goal to eventually land traditional academic appointments running their own research labs. They are looking for the best scientific opportunities in the places where they would most like to live, but if those criteria don’t align, they anticipate that the science will prevail. They are also interested in the opportunities that postdoctoral fellowships offer to sharpen teaching and research skills.
“We both really like teaching, and what we’re learning in our interviews is that there is a spectrum of emphasis on research versus teaching in academic careers,” said Heidi Malaby. “I don’t know where on that spectrum I’m going to fall yet.”
“Your postdoctoral training is where you’ll get really specific experience for what you’ll be doing, in terms of teaching experience as well as scientific focus,” Andrew Malaby concurred. “We’re considering that as we interview and are hoping for multiple offers from which to choose.”
Working at a local biotechnology firm for a year after graduating from Springfield College with a degree in sports biology (he was a varsity gymnast) cemented Andrew Malaby’s decision to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences; as his blog handle says, he has been ‘discovering the secrets of cellular traffic one molecule at a time,’ as a student of structural biology in the laboratory of Dr. Lambright, professor of molecular medicine and biochemistry & molecular pharmacology. Andrew Malaby’s thesis research into how guanine nucleotide exchange factors are regulated by their substrates, Arf GTPases, has implications for understanding how many infectious diseases ‘take over’ a cell. “I've looked at the atomic details underlying a feedback loop where the Arf GTPase acts to stimulate its own exchange factor and recruit it to the cell surface," he noted. “Bugs like certain bacteria can insert their own proteins into the host pathways such as this one.”
Heidi came to the GSBS from Bowling Green State University, where she majored in biology. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kobertz, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, Heidi’s thesis research focused on sugars which act as ‘postage stamps’ in the N-glycosylation of proteins. “N-glycosylation is a process that happens in every cell in your body that helps deliver proteins from where they’re made to where they do their job,” she said. “A little group of sugars is attached to proteins after they’re made and act as a ‘postage stamp;’ if cells don’t have the sugar group attached in a timely manner they don’t get where they need to go. We’ve found that there are very small differences in the proteins, really just a few atoms, that dictate when the sugars are attached.” Abnormal N-glycosylation has been associated with the cardiac condition Long-QT Syndrome as well as a spectrum of neurological disorders.
While facing the future with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation, the Malabys are already looking back fondly and gratefully on their years at the GSBS.
“I’ve grown incredibly, both scientifically and professionally, while I’ve been here,” said Heidi Malaby. “Part of why I want a postdoc is that I want a crack at another project where I can start at my current skill level. I want to see what I can accomplish.”
Andrew Malaby agrees with his wife. “I feel prepared to take on new challenges and new topics. Both of us are looking at changing research topics and techniques,” he said. “We are ready to do take on huge changes and new learning experiences.”
Related link on UMassMedNow:
Biomedical graduate students take science on the road