November 29, 2012

“Life after being a Mayo Graduate Student”

By Danielle Miranda

Hola Mayo Clinic! I am very happy to say that I was invited to give you updates on “Life after being a Mayo Graduate Student (MGS)”. A small intro to who I am: I am a MGS 2011 alumni from the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology/ Cancer Biology group who did my thesis in Dr. David I. Smiths lab. I also participated in many diversity efforts at Mayo including starting this blog! YAY, so happy its being kept up, Thanks Danielle.

So where what has happened since I graduated from MGS…approximately 1 year 10 months and 20 days later…1. I moved to St. Louis, MO, 2. Got married to a wonderful man in Puerto Vallarta, MX, and 3. Am working as a Staff Scientist at The Genome Institute (TGI) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. Phew, that was quite a busy year and a half.

In order to give the MGS students an idea of what to expect when you see the “light at the end of the tunnel”. I will give you an idea of how I got my wonderful position at TGI. First of all, when thinking of what to do when I graduated, I decided to find a post-doc position in cancer genomics research. I applied to various labs including TGI in (St. Louis, MO), St. Jude (Memphis ,TN), and the BC Cancer Agency (Vancouver, Canada). I was fortunate to have them pay for the trips to visit each site and to give a presentation to multiple people in the department (this is great as you meet multiple PI’s and can sometimes choose which lab you like instead of having one option). All the locations I attended were wonderful and it ended up being a very hard choice as I got offers at every site. In the end, I chose to join the ‘Mother of Genomic Sequencing’… The Genome Institute (TGI) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO (

Choosing your next step is always difficult and every person has his or her preferences and criteria (location, pay, PI personality, type of work, etc.) the list can go on and on. My factors included the fact this was the “hub” of sequencing, so many of the labs I was interested in send their samples to TGI to get sequenced, so I would be where all the magic happens. My fiancé at the time (now husband) was open for moving far away from Minnesota (no offense to those who love snow :)). I would be working hand-in-hand with the God Mother of sequencing Dr. Elaine Mardis (look her up if your interested in genomics!). I would also be primarily doing computer analysis using various software programs to analyze Next Generation Sequencing data, which meant NO bench work (I was defiantly ready for a break there :)). And last but not least, they offered me a Staff Scientist position, which is a step higher than post-doc and has a higher pay scale. I am not going to say that I am special or the most intelligent person I know to be offered this position, but my CV was quite spectacular and I worked my behind off at Mayo….. and of course it also helped that I was a Mayo graduate ;). All kidding aside, I was very lucky that this position opened up and I have worked very hard to make sure I do everything I can to prove myself.

Danielle asked me how it is to be a Staff Scientist at TGI. Well, to be honest it is pretty similar to doing a postdoc, however there is more responsibility (i.e writing grants, IRBs, etc) you need to be very independent (i.e very hands off and need to be confident in asking for help), and you need to create and generate ideas (i.e speak with PIs about their work, develop collaborations). Fortunate for me, I have always been pretty independent and always ask questions so it works out well. You may be wondering what I actually do; analyze Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and methylation data including RNA sequencing, small RNA sequencing, cDNA capture sequencing, and methylation arrays. I also have recently gotten back into the lab to process these samples (create libraries and generate bisulfite DNA). It’s highly captivating to see the start of the sequencing process from having RNA/DNA to analyzing the sample once it’s off the machine. Currently, I run a Normal Tissue Project that incorporates all of these components and also have worked on analyzing small RNA sequencing in acute myeloid leukemia patient samples.

I have also been able to gain new skill sets in bioinformatics which is great as I already have extensive basic science experience. One advantage of having a great boss/mentor like Dr. Mardis, are the opportunities they give you to better yourself and continue growing. With that said, I have had the opportunity to continue and support diverse students here at TGI by participating in the Opportunies in Genomics Research Program ( teaching a Graduate School Preparations Workshop in the summer months. Last semester, I was even able to help teach a Human Biology course at Wash University to undergraduates as well. I am hoping to create my own cancer bio or genomics course for undergraduates at Wash U soon!

To wrap this up….the past almost two years have been quite the experience. Being a MGS alumni has its benefits and allows you to get a great job and grow into great independent scientists. People all over the world have heard of the World Famous Mayo Clinic, so when you go out into the world everyone holds you at a higher level. I would have never been able to visualize my life as it is now when I was a student, but the “light at the end of the tunnel” does get brighter. I can’t speak for all MGS alumni, but for me its going great. The transition was a little difficult of course and there are bumps in the road as with any life change, but HAY we are MGS students so we are taught to be able to handle anything, take challenges and risks, and as my mentor told me before my thesis defense “Kick Butt and Take Names”. This concept has proven to work so far and I continue to follow it!

Good luck MGS students and please feel free to contact me with more questions at my LinkedIn site ( or respond to blog and submit comments.

(Miss you my MGS ladies … you know who you are. Acknowledgments to my thesis committee: Drs. Jim Maher, Dan Billadeau, Sandra Gendler, Martin Fernandez-Zapico, and David Smith. )

Till next time. Adios! Jess

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