Meet Marie Labouesse, Postdoc in Neuroscience

Marie Labouesse, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Neuroscience at the Department of Psychiatry

Meet Our Postdocs: Marie Labouesse, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University.


Which department are you in at Columbia and what is your position?

I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry.

Where are you from and how long have you been in NYC? 

I’m from France and moved to NYC in October 2016.

Where did you go to school? Describe your path to your current position.          

I did my undergrad and MSc. in Paris where I studied Biology and Nutritional Sciences at AgroParisTech. It was more of an applied school and I realized kind of late that actually I wanted to do research. I had recently attended a Neuroscience class and I got hooked immediately. I decided to go back to school one last year to get an accelerated MSc. in Neuroscience (at UPMC in Paris). The first month was tough: unlike my fellow classmates, neuroscience was completely new to me and the lectures were quite challenging. I thought I would not manage to get through all my exams. But with a lot of studying, I actually managed, and in the end I liked it so much that I decided to continue with a PhD in Neuroscience. I was too late for applying to all the PhD programs in France, but I managed to get into a really nice spot at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. All this to say it’s OK to switch topics throughout your studies, and you’ll end up landing on your feet!

During my PhD I studied how the early environment, e.g. stress or diets, can affect brain maturation during early postnatal development. I really liked the concepts of “critical periods of development”, it was fascinating. But it was challenging to ask questions in a very mechanistic way because the early environment affects brain development in so many parallel ways. So then, I decided to switch gears a bit and do a postdoc in a rather new field known as “circuit neuroscience”. In this field, researchers target specific neuronal populations with genetic tools and ask what their roles are in regulating behavior in an acute manner. Doing this, they map new “brain circuits” that are important for controlling behaviors such as movement, anxiety, social interactions, motivation, etc.

I stayed in my PhD lab for 9-10 months, to wrap up projects and to apply to postdoc labs and fellowships. I got pretty lucky and ended up having to choose between two fellowships, either at UC Berkeley in San Francisco or in NYC – a luxury problem (I always wanted to live in both of these cities). I chose NYC because my mentor sounded like a great person who really challenged you scientifically but also gave you intellectual freedom on your projects. Here I am at Columbia University since October 2016.

What research question are you trying to figure out right now?

Right now, I am trying to understand how the brain controls how we move. The idea is to find out new types of neurons that regulate motor function, and this may help one day to better understand what goes wrong in brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. More specifically, I focus on a brain region called the striatum, which has a particular cell type known as D1 neurons. We already know that D1 neurons are very important for regulating motor function, but we still don’t know what are the specific mechanisms. D1 neurons send axonal projections outside the striatum to other brain regions and what I’m trying to understand is what are the effects of activating D1 neurons on the activity of downstream brain regions. I also try to understand what are the mechanisms at the synaptic level that can explain how D1 neurons control movement. I wrote a short Science story about this recently.

In a nutshell, what tools or approaches are you using to try and figure this out?

One of the main tools I use to monitor D1 neurons is called “in vivo calcium imaging”. This method allows to track neural activity of D1 neurons in vivo. I do this in mouse models while mice perform behavioral motor tasks. This allows me to understand what are the brain signatures of D1 neurons during movement. I also use “chemogenetics” and “optogenetics” which allow me to activate or inhibit D1 neurons cell-specifically during motor tasks and find out their causal role in behavior, or in regulating downstream activity in the brain.

These different tools are part of the “circuit neuroscience” palette, and have been developed quite recently (in the past 5-15 years) by a bunch of super innovative engineers, chemists, physicists and biologists. It has really been an incredible cross-disciplinary effort that has transformed the way people study the brain between the early 2000s and now.

Why do you love science?

I love the logic of it. In this new field I joined, I can really manipulate particular neuron populations in the brain and see what exactly their role is in controlling behavior. It’s very rewarding.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in science?

First, go for something you are fascinated about. It’s the fascination that will keep you motivated, especially if you do a PhD and need to stay excited about your research topic for 3-5 years. Second, if possible, get lab experience as early as possible, that’ll help you pick up technical skills faster in any future lab you will work in. But it’s also OK if you didn’t; I started pretty late, it was tough at the beginning but I learned on the go.  Also, learn how to code! That’ll help you in any research topic. Third, if you want to change topics for your postdoc, do it! It might feel hard at first, but you’ll come in into this new field with a new angle as compared to your colleagues and the synergies might be super useful!

Also, keep asking yourself on a regular basis whether you want to stay in academia, or if it’s your PI, your parents or “you-5-years-ago” who wants/wanted that. Life in academia is very fulfilling but can also be in certain cases stressful or just very time-consuming. There are so many other jobs out there that are equally cool and challenging and in which you can be very successful and happy. If you’re curious about these other careers, don’t only talk to your PI, talk to other people outside of lab, go to career panels, join your postdoc association (e.g. CUPS), etc.

Finally, when you interview in a lab for a position, try to meet the lab members, ask what their mentor is like, what the lab vibe is. I always focused on working in labs with a good vibe, where mentoring grad and undergrad students and sharing resources are valued, and it has always paid off. I hope to continue transmitting this approach when/if I open my lab one day!

Tell us a bit about yourself or your projects that are not related to science.           

My favorite thing to do outside of lab is to play basketball. I play at leagues like Zogsports or NY Urban where you can sign up as an individual even if you don’t have a team (I highly recommend it). I also like to go hiking in the mountains or do outdoor activities.

What is your favorite thing about NYC?

The food for sure! Also the fact that I felt at home really quickly, people are very welcoming and make you feel like you belong to NYC.

When did you join CUPS and what is your current role, if any?        

I joined CUPS in June 2018. First, I was part of the Research & Professional Development Committee. One event I was very happy about was a Career Panel where we invited 4 former Columbia Postdocs who had transitioned to Scientist Positions in Industry (eg  Pfizer, Novartis). We had a really nice crowd and the panelists answered a lot of important questions for all those wondering about industry scientist positions.

I then got interested in graphic communications & outreach and therefore founded the Outreach & Communications Committee in Jan 2019 together with Sandra Franco Iborra. We were just 2 to start off with and now have a stable group of 6-8 people, all super motivated and creative. That’s really cool to see. I got this Science Postdoc Blog set up and going, and I am now passing it over to new members. I also helped on some really nice outreach events, such as a recent Science Trivia Night the group organized.

What do you like the most about CUPS? 

Meeting so many cool people that I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise. It’s a really nice way to make friends when you arrive here and don’t know anyone. I also like to discover how people do science in different disciplines that I don’t know much about. I would not have met climate scientists or mathematicians or space scientists otherwise! The Meet our Postdocs blog section has also been a great resource in this respect.

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Women in Science Panel and Networking Reception

Women in Science Panel and Networking Reception

August 28th, 2019 @ VEC, CUMC Campus (Organizers: Aditi Falnikar, Jami Jackson Mulgrave, Upasana Roy, JJ Teoh, Gagan Sidhu, Research & Professional Development Committee) 


The Women in Science Panel hosted by the CUPS Research & Professional Development Committee was a success, and we had great turnout. A huge thanks to our panelists Mari Millery, Anne-Catrin Uhlemann and Lata Phadtare, for sharing their experiences in academia and industry with us. We had some insightful conversations about the barriers faced by women in STEM, and ways to promote diversity and inclusivity. Thanks to all attendees for their support and participation.

Panelists:

  1. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, MD, PhD – Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Columbia University
  2. Mari Millery, PhD – President, M Research Studio
  3. Lata Phadtare, MS, PMP – IT Manager Medical Informatics, Biorepository Manager at Janssen Research & Development, L.L.C.

Take-home messages:

  1. Having diverse groups is not enough, we also need to ensure inclusivity.
  2. Seek out good mentorship and support systems.
  3. Don’t feel bad about asking for help when you need it! 


This event was sponsored by Thermo Fisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Chloé Pasin, Postdoc in Quantitative Immunology

Chloé Pasin, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Pathology and Cell Biology Department.

Meet Our Postdocs: Chloé Pasin, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Pathology and Cell Biology Department at Columbia University.


Which department are you in at Columbia and what is your position?

I am a postdoctoral research scientist in the department of Pathology and Cell Biology.

Where are you from and how long have you been in NYC? 

I grew up in Toulouse, in the south west of France and I’ve been in NYC for 6 months.

Where did you go to school? Describe your path to your current position.          

I studied mostly in France and did some internships abroad. My background is in mathematics, but I realized during my bachelor’s degree that I wanted to apply my knowledge in mathematics to concrete questions. I did a master’s degree in mathematics applied to biology/biostatistics. I was lucky to find a very interesting internship in Bordeaux on modeling the dynamics of cells in response to HIV vaccines. After that, I went to work for a few months at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where I did some biostatistics to assess the efficacy of a dengue vaccine.

After Seattle, I started my PhD in a public health institute in Bordeaux. I was involved in two main projects: one was on modeling the immune response in response to Ebola vaccine. I worked in collaboration with a pharmaceutical lab on data generated during phase I clinical trials in UK and East Africa. My other project was to develop a mathematical tool to optimize immunotherapy schedules in HIV-infected patients. I graduated at the end of 2018 and started the postdoc here a couple of months later.

What research question are you trying to figure out right now?

I am working on data from patients with blood cancers who underwent chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, which is supposed to reconstitute their immune system with healthy blood cells. I am trying to identify a subset of cells early after the transplant whose dynamics could help predict the clinical state of the patient (relapse, graft-versus-host-disease) and their long-term survival.

In a nutshell, what tools or approaches are you using to try and figure this out?

During my PhD I was mostly modeling the dynamics of cells with systems of differential equations, and using estimation methods to assess the value of the parameters of the system based on clinical data. It can help give a better understanding of how the immune system works and allow us to quantify some of these processes. Eventually, using these kinds of methods could help optimize vaccines and treatments. Now, I am learning new methods of variable selection that are part of the “machine learning” field. It helps select a few factors that are associated with a clinical event among a large number of variables.

What is the best part of your job?            

I like how diverse it is, and I enjoy working with people from different backgrounds (medical doctors, immunologists, mathematicians, biostatisticians, etc.). I think the best part is being able to discuss a concrete question with a clinician and trying to figure out which tools and methods should be used to answer it. And also, always learning new things.

Why do you love science?

Because you get to ask a lot of questions! And you might also get some answers about how things work.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in science?

I think what’s important is to be curious and follow what you are interested in. You will not be good in your research if you don’t enjoy it! Also, do not think that having a degree in a field prevents you from working in a different one. You can adapt and learn new things if you want to.

Tell us a bit about yourself or your projects that are not related to science.           

At the moment I am also trying to learn more about American history and politics by reading books, going to exhibitions, reading more newspaper articles… and I am also trying to speak better Spanish. I’m also going quite often to yoga.

What is your favorite thing about NYC?

Can I choose more than one? I would say the diversity of people, which makes you feel that you can be yourself without anyone judging, the cultural events, and the food!

When did you join CUPS and what is your current role, if any?        

I joined the Outreach and Communications committee a couple of months ago. I don’t have a specific role there, but I am trying to be more involved in outreach events. I am particularly interested in speaking about science to kids and improving access for women in STEM fields.

What do you like the most about CUPS? 

I think it’s nice that it brings people from different backgrounds together to try and make the postdoc experience more than just about your own work.

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