October 18, 2010

Perspectives, Part Two

By Joseph Dolence
Advice and thoughts from a fourth year Mayo Graduate School student, Joseph Dolence. Joe is in Dr. Kay Medina's lab on the Rochester campus. In the lab, he works to discover the molecular mechanisms behind how early decisions within multipotent progenitors lead to the lymphoid/B cell fate. Here is some answers to some questions posed to Joe...

Joe enjoying free time in his first visit to Target Field last March

  • How did you choose your career? Was this an easy or hard process for you?  If you struggled, how did you overcome these struggles?

How did I choose science? For a long time, I wanted to go to medical school. I have always been interested in how humans fight disease, so after I got exposed to immunology during college in Anatomy/Physiology, coupled with the fact I loved helping students in my teaching assistant job, it was a rather easy choice once I had a wonderful experience in the Pease Lab during Mayo SURF 2006. I figured I would put my interest in helping patients in figuring out the precise details that go behind their afflictions rather than just prescribe medications.

  • What kind of training, both formal and informal, did you receive to prepare you for your career? If applicable, how did you select where to attend graduate school? How did you choose your postdoc? How about any additional training? How did you choose what additional training to pursue and how did you choose where to do it?

I went to a relatively small liberal arts college in northeast Minnesota called the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth. While I was there, I double majored in biology and biochemistry.  I was also a part of the McNair Scholars program, which helps students to get undergraduate research experience and also apply to graduate school. After my junior year, I went to Mayo and worked in Larry Pease’s lab as a SURF student during the summer of 2006. This was a critical experience as it enabled me to really see first-hand what research is all about and also allowed me to see what going to Mayo for graduate school would be all about. Coming from small town Minnesota (the Iron Range, 60 miles north of Duluth) and going to college in Duluth, it wasn’t a big adjustment for me to go to Rochester. Additionally, I worked as a teaching assistant for 2 years at Scholastica. All of these experiences culminated in me wanted to do research and become a graduate student at Mayo.

  • How competitive and/or rigorous was the training for your career?

My training for my career both in undergraduate and at Mayo has been very competitive and rigorous. I work hard to get what needs to get done. I think the competitive nature at every step of my training has been very critical for pushing me to do good work. At the same time however, I have had a lot of fun. My attitude always has been to enjoy what I do. Whether that has been running a flow cytometer or out with friends at a Twins game relaxing, I think every aspect of your life is training to be a better scientist and a better person.

  • How long did it take you to train? Was it shorter or longer than anticipated? If you had any setbacks, how did you deal with them?

It took 4 years to graduate from college and so far it has been 3.5 years roughly at Mayo. I don’t like predicting stuff, but if I was to predict I would say my time to degree at Mayo would be average—a little around 5-5.5 years. I would say it was what I thought it would be—pretty much what I anticipated. I haven’t had any major setbacks so far, and I hope that continues. But I would approach them the way I approach any setbacks in life—with hard work and a smile. I believe everything happens for a reason and would approach it with an attitude of learning something.

  • What advice would you give to someone interested in following a similar career path?


Every time I get this question, as the SURF students last summer and my lab tech, Kim, can attest to, I often get very passionate in my response. But I will save the speeches today in this interview. I would simply say you have to love what you do. It is too much work to just be lukewarm to the idea of being a scientist. Yes, some days, your going to think, “Why did I do this?” But on the whole, you should love it, want to do it. This isn’t really a job you can punch a clock absent mindedly for 40 years and be successful. If you want a reenactment of my speech—talk to Kim, I’m sure she will do it for you.

  • What would you have done differently in preparing for your career?

mmm…I don’t know if I would have done anything to different. I would advise people doing this to get as much experience as possible before signing on to grad school. These experiences will either reaffirm your desire to do this, point you in the direction to what kind of science you want to do, or make you think twice about going into this.

  • How much do you like what you do? Why? Is it what you imagined it would be? If not, how have you adapted?

I love that you asked this question. I love what I do…well most days. I think its important. I’m not saying its always sunny and golden, but I honestly love what I do everyday. I like who I work with and when I wake up most days, I like going in and tackling the questions we do on a regular basis. Most of my training has been what I imagined it to be—I don’t think 100% has been what I thought it would be, but that’s the unpredictable nature of all of this. Sometimes research takes you down a path your not expecting and many times that is a wonderful thing.

  • How do you achieve career: life balance? Is this easy or hard to do? How many hours do you typically work per week?


I work around 45-50 hours/week at Mayo and depending on the week, I spend hours outside of Mayo reading articles for work, journal clubs, or whatever needs to get done. Total, on average, I spend 50-60 hours working. I achieve career:life balance through many means. I love baseball and I love the Twins, so I go to games through my family’s season tickets. I also play golf at area golf courses about once a week. I work hard to get what I need done M-F, so I have the weekends to myself. Admittedly, that always doesn’t work, but I try my best. I also use my 15 vacation days very wisely through the year for me to rest my mind. But as many a grad student knows, you never really stop thinking about the project. Although, when I’m lining up a must make 15 footer par putt, I’m pretty good at blocking out my Mayo life.

  • What strategies have you figured out over time to help you succeed?

I learned a long time ago, if I write down what I need to do, generally it gets done. It might not get done the day it gets put on the paper, but it gets done sooner then when I don’t write it down. I also learned that reading science is easier with a cup of coffee. My friends help me to succeed in my career:life balance.

  • How do you see your field changing in the next 5-10 years?

Where is Immunology going in the next 5-10 years? Great question. Even though I come at this from the prospective of studying the early stages in the development of the immune system, I will try to comment on Immunology on the whole. Or at least what I hope happens. I think we will be moving towards studying human immunology and focusing on what is relevant in human disease. There are many situations where the mouse and the human don’t match up, but we have to study the mouse because it’s the best model system to simulate and manipulate. I think we are going to continue to unlock the molecular mechanisms behind the immune system’s response to all kinds of human disease. In development, I think we are going to start putting the whole together—we all study our favorite molecules, but I think a focus on looking at how everything fits together to guide these processes will be a big part of moving forward. Immunology is an amazing field that will take many leaps and bounds in the next 5-10 years, and hopefully along the way we figure out how to quiet the immune system in situations of lupus and ramp it up to fight cancer. We are only going to get better. It’s an exciting time.

  • Anything else you would like to share?

Don’t be discouraged. Stay positive and work hard. No matter if you have a career in science or medicine or do something else, smile and realize better days are coming. Oh, also thanks for reading! It was a pleasure to share my thoughts with you today.

JJ (Blog Manager)

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