G1 Students Share Lab Choices

Rachel Brown (G1)
November 29, 2017


The Vanderbilt MSTP would like to congratulate the G1 class on completing their first two years of medical school and on joining the following laboratories & departments for their graduate studies:

G1 Student

Graduate Program


Abin Abraham

Human Genetics

Tony Capra, PhD

Margaret Axelrod

Cancer Biology

Justin Balko, PharmD, PhD

Connor Beebout

Microbe-Host Interactions

Maria Hadjifrangiskou, PhD

Benjamin Brown

Chemical and Physical Biology - Structural Biology

Jens Meiler, PhD

Rachel Brown

Cancer Biology

Christopher S. Williams, MD, PhD

Bridget Collins


David Sweatt, PhD

Andrew Hale


John D. York, PhD

Elizabeth Hale


Jennifer Blackford, PhD

Matthew Madden

Molecular Pathology and Immunology

Jeff Rathmell, PhD

Kelsey McNew

Molecular Pathology and Immunology

Daniel Moore, MD, PhD

Brynna Paulukaitis


David Sweatt, PhD

Christopher Peek

Microbe-Host Interactions

Jim Cassat, MD, PhD

Michael Raddatz

Biomedical Engineering

W. David Merryman, PhD

Bradley Reinfeld

Cancer Biology

W. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD

Matthew Wleklinski


Bjorn Knollman, MD, PhD

David Wu

Human Genetics

Antonis Hatzopoulos, PhD

Patrick Wu

Biomedical Informatics

Wei-Qi Wei, MD, PhD


“My interest in human genetics began while I was doing an interim research stint between graduating from college and starting my MSTP training. At the time, I came across an article that demonstrated how duplications and deletion of certain regions in the genome can lead to ‘opposite’ phenotypes (Williams Syndrome vs. Autism Spectrum Disorders). This piqued my interest. The more I learned about human genetics, the more I realized it combined many other facets that were personally appealing. Given the sheer size and complexity of the human genome, computational methodologies will serve an important role in shaping science and (precision) medicine. My background in biomedical engineering had already instilled an inclination for algorithmic thinking that complemented computational approaches in human genetics research. In choosing a mentor in this area, one of my priorities was finding a someone with whom I could be honest with, both with scientific and personal matters. Based on Tony’s previous work, the respect and high praise he receives from his previous trainees and colleagues, and my own experience rotating in his lab, I was convinced that he would be an exceptional mentor to train with. The human genome is utterly fascinating. From the rich array of human diversity to the intangible social and emotional experiences of human beings, the source code is four simple letters.” - Abin Abraham

“What is cooler than T cells attacking a tumor? Figuring out how to make more T cells attack more tumors!! I was drawn to the Balko Lab by the exciting science and new ideas at the intersection of cancer biology and immunology. Justin collaborates broadly, thinks translationally, and is an accessible mentor. I am very excited to learn and grow as a scientist in the Balko Lab during the graduate phase of my training!” - Maggie Axelrod

“Broadly, I am interested in working at the interface between computational and experimental methods in structural biology and drug discovery. I came to Vanderbilt to work with Jens Meiler because he does exactly that - he develops and maintains a software suite known as the Biology and Chemistry Library (BCL), and he is a developer in the RosettaCommons, a computational biology enterprise founded by David Baker at the University of Washington to predict the 3D structures of proteins. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, my background was primarily in wet-lab work. I wanted to spend most of my PhD developing a new skillset that would enhance my ability to ask questions about disease at the atomic level. I do a lot of work developing methods for computer-aided drug discovery, using 3D protein modeling of individual patient mutations to study the structural basis of their disease, and finally stepping into both the dry- and wet- labs to better understand kinase selectivity. I chose my mentor purely for academic reasons, but he is also a swell guy.” - Benjamin Brown

“Due to my undergraduate experiences shadowing oncologists, I matriculated into the MSTP with a PhD in Cancer Biology in mind. However, as the preclinical and clerkship years introduced me to numerous other facets of clinical and translational medicine, my interests wandered a little bit. I took some time to rotate in other labs, including a lab studying maternal-fetal interactions. However, I loved my Internal Medicine clerkship, including my Oncology rotation, and ended up back in a Cancer Biology related lab! After learning more about Dr. Williams’ excellent track record of training physician-scientists, I decided to do a ‘rent-to-own’ rotation in the Williams Lab after taking Step 1. When I confirmed that I would be learning numerous, widely applicable techniques and perform mechanistic studies in molecular biology and physiology, I decided to join the lab. I also greatly enjoyed the collaborative atmosphere in the lab, as well as Chris’ enthusiasm regarding collaborations with other groups.” - Rachel Brown

“My previous research experience was focused on the transcriptional mechanisms governing endothelial cell biology in the context of cardiovascular disease, giving me a solid foundation in cellular and molecular biology. I decided to join John York’s lab, which focuses on inositol-phosphate signaling using biochemical, proteomic, and structural approaches in order to learn these approaches and how they can be leveraged to study human disease. Thus, I chose a ‘traditional’ PhD experience focusing on understanding a biological process rather than one particular disease. To me, understanding how to elucidate basic biochemical mechanisms can be applied to study any problem in any field of medicine. Plus, John has a homemade, brick pizza oven.” - Andrew Hale

“My research experience prior to attending Vanderbilt was in neuroimaging and biobehavioral tasks. For my first rotation, I thought it would be smart to try something different, so I rotated in a murine electrophysiology lab. I really enjoyed the lab, the mentor, and the science, but the experience confirmed that I wanted to stay with human neuroimaging. Fortunately, that rotation lab collaborated with Dr. Jennifer Blackford’s neuroimaging lab. I already knew about Dr. Blackford’s work as I saw her give a talk at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting while I was a postbac at the NIH. She was a great speaker and I loved her clear enthusiasm for her science. I set up numerous meetings with both Dr. Blackford and one of her older MSTP students and realized that the Blackford Lab would be a great place for me. Dr. Blackford is not only a fantastic technical teacher, but also thinks critically about how to develop efficient and effective training plans for graduate students to help me get the most out of my PhD experience. She’s also a lot of fun, which helps!” - Lizzie Hale

“After hearing from Blair Stocks (M4) that Dan Moore’s lab is the best lab at Vanderbilt, I knew I needed to swing in for a rotation! Although I didn’t come to Vanderbilt with a specific interest in immunology, I discovered in medical school how relevant immunology was to every single field of medicine. I love the techniques the lab uses - no more spending four hours each day staring into a tissue culture hood! I’m looking forward to spending some time thinking about immune tolerance in Type 1 Diabetes as part of a forward-thinking, supportive lab.” - Kelsey McNew

“My past research experience primarily focused on the impact of mechanical stressors on a cellular level, and Dave Merryman has crafted his lab around these types of interactions in the cardiovascular system, a clinical interest of mine. Importantly, the lab is well-connected, obviously within the engineering school, but also with collaborators in clinical and developmental cardiology. I believe these connections will create a great place to train as a future physician-scientist. Perhaps most significantly, I saw that the lab as a group had culled an environment of constant cooperation and discussion that allows space to problem-solve and think through issues. I am the kind of person who likes to think out loud, so that was a big factor in deciding the space in which I wanted to train.” - Michael Raddatz

“Throughout my clinical year, I was most impressed by how cancer immunotherapy can change a patient's disease trajectory. Patients with metastatic melanoma no longer had grim prognoses of months, but rather could be completely disease free years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, this is still a minority of patients and only applies to a handful of cancer types. I am excited to join Kim Rathmell’s lab because we are at an exciting and often overlooked aspect of tumor immunology: how metabolic abnormalities in the tumor microenvironment contribute to the anti-tumor immune response. Joining Dr. Rathmell’s lab was an easy choice given my interest in the topic and her leadership in training physician-scientists.” - Brad Reinfeld

“When I was a postbac at the NIH, I was exposed to the growing influence and power of computational tools in medicine and biomedical research. Also, due to Vanderbilt’s new curriculum, I had the opportunity to see patients on the wards with the help of an electronic health record before starting graduate school. This experience completely changed my research trajectory. I realized that I was interested in numerous human diseases and could not just focus on one for for my PhD. Considering my interest in in silico methods and Vanderbilt’s national role in precision medicine, I contacted Wei-Qi Wei and Josh Denny. They were generous enough to offer me a rotation in their group despite my lack of experience with programming and statistics. Dr. Wei was not only involved in the projects that I was working on in his lab, but was also enthusiastic about helping with other aspects of becoming a productive and successful MD/PhD trainee. I look forward to conducting my graduate work in the Center for Precision Medicine and Department of Biomedical Informatics.” - Patrick Wu