Healing Through Art

As New York City reopens, Dhru Deb, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, ventures out to the art galleries. He shares his experience below in a personal post in hopes to inform and encourage you to attend the new exhibitions in the City.

Fig. 1 “I want to feel alive again” at Lyles & King gallery on 21 Catherine St., NY, NY; Courtesy of the Artist and Lyles & King, New York. Photo credit: Charles Benton


As the COVID-19 lock-down is slowly and carefully easing up in several areas of our lives, it becomes important to acknowledge and express the trauma and anxiety we have been through. In New York City, some of the reopened art galleries are currently featuring works of visual and auditory forms expressing personal narratives. Even if you aren’t a pro art enthusiast, you may identify with these visual narratives as ultimately it comes down to human experiences of uncertainty. Acknowledging it – is the first step.

Fig. 2 “Graphica” at Foxy Production on 2 E Broadway, NY, NY; Courtesy Foxy Production, New York. Photography: Charles Benton

Perspective. I think that one word summarizes it all.

Walking from my apartment in East Village to the art galleries in Lower East Side and Chinatown, I noticed how the city I knew so well changed in the past few months. The empty retail spaces, the unopened restaurants and the off-Broadway theaters are pointing to that anxious question – “what’s next?” So, I was curious to see how the reopened art galleries are adapting to this situation. To find out their stories.

My first destination was Foxy Production’s Graphica. See the photographs of the show here. The title “Graphica” was inspired by the painter Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy’s philosophical and instructional Latin poem “De Arte Graphica” (1668). Inside the second-floor loft space on East Broadway, Foxy Production’s founders and directors, Michael Gillespie and John Thomson united works of four contemporary artists: Michael Bell-Smith, JODI, Cindy Ji Hye Kim and Glendalys Medina.

Fig. 3 Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Thirty Frames Per Second, 2016, ink on paper, 30 drawings, 6 x 3 in. each; Courtesy Foxy Production, New York. Photography: Charles Benton

As our recent experiences on the march for racial justice and equality in New York City had varied response, Cindy Ji Hye Kim’s black and white piece emphasizing gaze, focal point, field of vision, power and contrast immediately stood out to me. “The artist’s “Thirty Frames Per Second” (2016) is an animation flip book displayed as separate pages across one wall of the gallery. Recalling Hitchcock’s use of flowing dissolves that are read as one shot, the series of ink drawings has a circulating eye than can induce senses of both anxiety and freedom.”

The video documentation of the show is here. made by Charles Benton.

Fig. 4 “I want to feel alive again” at Lyles & King gallery on 21 Catherine St., NY, NY; Courtesy of the Artist and Lyles & King, New York. Photo credit: Charles Benton

My second destination was Lyles & King’s newly opened location on Catherine St. within only couple of buildings of Foxy Production. The show titled “I want to feel alive again” concerns the body, empathy, and human connection, using skin as the central motif.

Fig. 5 Jessie Makinson,  Skin Spy, 2020, Oil and pigment on canvas, 82 5/8 x 78 3/4 inches, 210 x 200 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Lyles & King, New York. Photo credit: Charles Benton

“With the world grown uncertain, it makes sense to refocus on figuration, to take refuge in the facticity of our bodies (when pricked, we bleed: fact), but in the current situation it is a roulette wheel: our bodies could betray us and fail at any time.” – this sentence in the press release directly connected to the anxiety I felt as a cancer researcher during the COVID-19 lockdown! The carefully curated artworks for this show aligned with this message.

In the inaugural show, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Owner and Director, Issac Lyles. The outdoor backyard space, as Isaac will emphasize, is a must-see if you are visiting the gallery. The current show will identify with our cravings for skin-to-skin contact that’s impossible as we focus on safe, social distancing.

Fig. 6 “Phantom Gates and Falling Homes” at Chapter NY on 249 E Houston St., NY, NY, (in the middle) Cheyenne Julien, Mixed Company, 2020, Charcoal on newsprint, 18 × 24 inches (45.72 × 60.96 cm), 21 × 27 × 1 ½ inches (53.34 × 68.58 × 3.81 cm) (framed), Courtesy of the artist and Chapter NY, New York. Photo by Charles Benton

For my third destination, I walked along the Essex St. up until the Houston St. where Chapter NY found a cute and sunny location. The show titled “Phantom Gates and Falling Homes” by artist Cheyenne Julien presents a multifaceted view of the city life.

Fig. 7 Cheyenne Julien, Trini Slangs, 2020, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 38 × 34 inches (96.52 × 86.36 cm), Courtesy of the artist and Chapter NY, New York. Photo by Charles Benton

Perhaps the most direct link to the recent #BLM protest days from a population already angered, anxious and frustrated from COVID-19 lockdown is depicted in the artworks. You will realize these emotions on many levels as you stand in front the painting showing a hand holding a knife is stabbing the water bottles rolling out of a vandalized vending machine! Similarly, you will observe the subject in Trini Slangs, “flaunts her t-shirt which has been knotted to accentuate her tapered waist and curving hips. She holds her pose with confidence and ease.”

For viewing, in all these venues, I almost had the whole gallery to myself. Perhaps a rainy weekday afternoon added to the reasons along with the dedicated gallery visitors struggling to keep up with planning on online appointments and a fear of being in closed spaces. However, the gallery staffs were periodically cleaning the surfaces touched by the visitors and bottles of hand sanitizers were placed at the entrance.

Fig. 8 (on the right) Cheyenne Julien, White Noise, 2020, Oil on canvas, 52 × 60 inches (132.08 × 152.40 cm), Courtesy of the artist and Chapter NY, New York. Photo by Charles Benton

For a scientist-artist and a “New Yorker at heart” like myself, New York City still remains “the city of final destination” as you will read in E.B. White’s essay. While Jerry Seinfeld’s recent opinion piece on New York Times comforts me that New York will NEVER be over, experiencing the re-opening of art galleries that have been the beating heart of the social and cultural scene of this city, reassures that very notion. Thanks to Foxy Production, Lyles & King, and Chapter NY, I get to live this city life once again through the perspective of others!


Featured shows and galleries in this article:

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Glendalys Medina, Jodi, Michael Bell-Smith “Graphica” at Foxy Production < https://www.foxyproduction.com/ > 2 E Broadway, 200, Wed – Sun, 11-6

“I Want To Feel Alive Again” at Lyles & King < http://www.lylesandking.com/ > 21 Catherine street, Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11-6; Sunday 12-6

Cheyenne Julien at Chapter NY < http://chapter-ny.com/ > 249 E Houston street, Gallery hours: Wed – Sun, 11-6

Science communication vaccine: a key weapon against coronavirus misinfodemics 

The CUPS blog provides a space for postdocs to share their perspectives and express their opinions. We welcome your submissions – please email cups.outreach.communications@gmail.com.

Rinki Saha, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Developmental Neuroscience, shares a personal narrative and offers advice for scientists to combat misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘We realize that this is an unprecedented time, and there are a lot of unknowns. We’re still working to make sense of the COVID-19 outbreak and how, as a company, we can best support our customers and employees during this time…’ 

By now, almost all of us have scrolled through dozens of these kinds of emails. We all are probably so psychologically numb that these words are not able to make scratches on our minds. 

I still remember how in late January, during a lunch break, we were having fun reading a meme about how people have stopped drinking Corona beer after hearing stories about the virus outbreak in Wuhan, China. We were all surprised how China was building hospitals under a devastating health emergency, just in a few days. The whole world had no clue that this dreadful virus was already in action at least from December 2019. Later we have witnessed how this demon called coronavirus extended its paw starting from Europe to the USA with its differential spreading trajectory every day. The panic engulfed us in a way that we would binge the whole day by looking at the numbers of coronavirus infected cases and deaths growing on different websites worldwide. On March 11th, the World Health Organization announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Probably, this declaration of pandemic did not entirely reveal the deadliest extent of this virus.

This pandemic has shown us how a microscopic organism can take over the whole world in just a matter of days. From the health crisis to economic breakdown, the COVID-19 outbreak has become the darkest patch in our society. The most heartbreaking thing for me as a scientist is to see the flood of misinformation flowing around social media and creating perpetual confusion and chaos among the general public. The prevention of COVID-19 outbreak is straightforward, maintaining basic hand hygiene and social distancing can reduce the spread. Of course, continuing social distancing for a longer timespan takes a considerable toll on people’s  mental health. I guess at the first stage of this pandemic, psychologically everyone tends to believe that we need a more critical preventive measure to stop this devil. The moment people realized that a vaccine and medicine are not immediately available, they started to look for easy fixes. Suddenly there were several magic cures for COVID-19 available in WhatsApp or other social media platforms ranging from a lemon ginger cocktail to cow urine or even disinfectant. Suddenly, people with zero scientific expertise adding the disclaimer ‘although I am not a doctor’ started to claim that blah blah blah (read hydroxychloroquine) can cure coronavirus patients. Arguments in social media are still ongoing that COVID-19 is not much deadlier than flu. This is a relatively easier topic to explain to people because we have the statistics to show the transmission rate of COVID-19. Additionally, we can specify that the number of deaths from COVID-19 per week is actually several times more than the influenza virus.

The most shaking propaganda of the current situation is the conspiracy theory of how the coronavirus has been created in the laboratory as a biological weapon to destroy the whole world. I have spent countless times explaining to my family and loved ones that there is no single evidence present at this moment, which can prove this is the case. Apart from the health crisis and economic crunch, COVID-19 pandemic has generated “misinfodemics”. As  scientists, it is our duty to help non-scientists understand the whole situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the time, the language used in scientific journals to describe the newest discoveries is beyond the understanding of the general public. Although sometimes, few journals provide a separate section narrating the study’s significance to make it more digestible for non-scientists. Scientific jargon could make it very difficult to identify the subtle difference between information and pseudoscience. This is where science communicators could become that useful tool that can help to understand the difference between evidence-based science and misinformation. Right now, science communication is in dire need to restore the balance in the society. 

We as scientists have to explain our work without unnecessary jargon so that whenever there is this news that X lab has already developed the vaccine against COVID-19, people should start questioning rather than generating false hopes.

Science communicators can pitch in and explain several difficult stages of vaccine development and that success in the initial stage does not necessarily mean that it will lead to final vaccine production. As research at its very core is challenging, we can fail at any point in our experimental ventures. In this current scenario, science communicators have to elaborately explain the different models used in research namely, cell culture, mouse, macaque to human. Drugs actively reducing the harmful effects of COVID-19 in cell culture does not mean that it will successfully work similarly during human clinical trials. Science communicators could also explain using  evidence-based information what the right guidelines are and what is just misinformation. Probably more interactive sessions with science communicators could be most useful. More and more community-based science events need to be organized to make the general public aware of recent scientific trends and advancements. 

Science communication could act as a ‘vaccine’ itself to fight against this coronavirus “misinfodemics”. How can it happen? Science communicators can embed laypeople with the right information, exactly the same way we get our vaccine booster. Immunity against some of the virus even needs multiple booster doses. In a similar manner, science communicators can administer an exact dose of scientific information in public. Once vaccinated, whenever our body encounters a virus, our immune system starts to respond by producing antibodies. I speculate that a layperson vaccinated with proper ‘science communication’ will begin to ask the right question at the right moment. Appropriate science communication can help a layperson even recognize the pattern in the news which contains misinformation. Whenever there will be a news article showing that a cure for COVID-19 is available according to a ‘research study’, I want to see that day when a layperson will ask to see that specific ‘research study’ for verification. 

The job of science communicators will not be easy at all because just a few months ago, this virus was non-existent on this planet. We are still learning everyday new information about this virus. But with the willpower of science communicators the truth behind science will always prevail in the fight against misinformation. 

Disclaimer: The opinion of the author does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CUPS.

CUPS Science Illustration Competition Winners!

During the COVID-19 lockdown, we asked Columbia postdocs to channel their creative energy and submit original artwork demonstrating “the scientific process in practice.” We are pleased to announce the winners of the CUPS Science Illustration Competition – Martin Gajdosik and Alessandra Ali. Shown below are their original artwork accompanied by introductions from the artists and descriptions of their processes.

Martin Gajdosik

“My name is Martin Gajdosik and I am a postdoctoral researcher in Juchem’s Lab (http://juchem.bme.columbia.edu). I work on development and applications of in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). Our novel MRS methods are used in metabolic studies for aging, alcohol use disorder, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and tinnitus.

The painting I created is called “Perseverance” and it is a personal reminder of the many nights I’ve spent at work, figuring out problems that did not allow me to sleep. I believe that this attribute of perseverance is in every one of us, and gets stronger when we do the things that we love.”


Alessandra Ali


“I am Alessandra Ali and I am a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Department of Radiology, PET center. I am from Italy. I have lived in New York for one and a half years and I love the art world.

My artwork represents the scientific method of my real work in the lab, sometimes amazing and rewarding and sometimes hard and frustrating. Everyday, every scientist should recognize themselves as a child full of curiosity for the world problems and full of energy to find the right solution in a labyrinth of hypotheses. Day after day, a scientist repeats the experiments, collects data, exchanges ideas with colleagues trying to understand which is the right path to follow. A good scientific result resembles a pretty butterfly, so difficult to catch and so sensitive to handle, but at the same time so wonderful to obtain.”

Meet Nandhini Sivakumar, Postdoc in the Motor Neuron Center

Meet Our Postdocs: Nandhini Sivakumar, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Neurodegenerative Diseases at the Motor Neuron Center (Columbia University).

Nandhini Sivakumar, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Neurodegenerative Diseases

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

I am a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Motor Neuron Center.

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

I am from India and I have been at CUIMC for one year now.
Where did you go to school? Describe your path to your current position.          

My early education (High school and Bachelors) happened in India. Midway through my high school when I learned the two words – recombinant DNA – I knew I wanted to explore bioscience and I chose to study biotechnology in my Bachelors, encompassing a broad array of subjects. That just opened the gateway to the arena of genetics, which I decided to invest in, move continents and pursue my Masters in the UK in 2008. Little did I know back then, that I was going to intertwine every step of my studies towards my future career. In my Masters, I worked on screening and validating gene targets that alleviated apoptosis in cell-culture models of the neurodegenerative disorder Huntington’s disease. My passion for basic research by then had become a major player in my decisions, and so I decided that having gained some expertise in neurodegeneration, it would be apt to get more hands-on experience in hardcore neuroscience research. I got my PhD position in 2011 at the Max-Planck-Institute for Experimental Medicine, in Göttingen, Germany, where I studied the role of SNARE modulatory proteins that synergistically regulate neurotransmission at excitatory synapses in the hippocampus of the mammalian brain. Soon after, I applied for postdoctoral positions without much of a dilemma believing that my career path was already carving itself out. In 2016, I started my first postdoctoral position at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, further investigating another organ of the central nervous system, the spinal cord. I ventured into studying the afferent pathways modulating somatosensations of pain and itch. At a certain point in my first postdoc, I came to the crossroads of wanting to stay in science research versus exploring a career in scientific communications and editorials. Given the experience I had garnered for nearly a decade, and my ambition to become an independent group leader, I decided to stay on and apply for postdoctoral positions in the USA (moving continents again…) that would not only bring me closer to my goal but also my family and friends. That is when Columbia and New York City happened.

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

My current research focus is on motor neuron degeneration in the spinal cord and its associated synaptic abnormalities observed during the onset and progression of spinal muscular atrophy.

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

With expertise in molecular and cellular biology alongside electrophysiology, I am here and now employing all the skills I have acquired over the decade of my research contributions in Europe.

What is the best part of your job?            

The best part about my job is being able to work in a renowned medical center that not only provides amazing care to patients but also has well-equipped facilities and experts working to propel basic and clinical research forward. We as a team in our lab, each have our own skillset and yet have been more than willingly helping each other with our projects, bringing forth ideas, troubleshooting technical glitches associated with equipment and importantly, morally encouraging each other in our day-to-day experiences.
Why do you love science?

Because recombinant DNA was my first love! <3

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

I would advise the upcoming scientists to go with the flow of their interests. Only when you know what interests you the most, will you find ways to passionately do it.

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

I love playing the piano, hiking, swimming and given my urge to jump across continents, I love to travel!

What is your favorite thing about NYC?

Arts and Culture. The best about NYC, which people would rarely find elsewhere, is the love and passion for arts (Metropolitan and history museums), theatre (Broadway shows), classical music (Juilliard, Carnegie Hall), dance (American-Russian BALLET) and much more! I couldn’t even fathom the depth of it all until I started experiencing it here!

What do you like the most about CUPS? 

CUPS has organized some amazing professional and social events that got us to meeting so many new people. I find it to be a great resource center that would be useful for all Columbia postdocs.

To follow Nandhini:




Meet Gwennaëlle Monnot, Postdoc in Skin Immunology

Meet Our Postdocs: Gwennaëlle Monnot, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Skin Immunology at the Department of Dermatology (Columbia University).

Gwennaëlle Monnot, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Skin Immunology

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

I am a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Department of Dermatology.

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

I am from Switzerland and I have lived in New York for two and a half years.
Where did you go to school? Describe your path to your current position.          

I started my studies in the Federal Polytechnical School of Lausanne (EPFL) where I obtained a bachelors in Life Sciences Engineering. During my last year, I had my first immunology class and I realized that was the subject I wanted to specialize in. At the time, I was also part of an on-campus association which was promoting volunteering for NGOs amongst EPFL students, and I became interested in global health and infectious diseases. I hence decided to apply to the Immunology MSc. program of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There, I obtained my MSc., and had the opportunity to spend 2 months in Burkina Faso analyzing blood samples from children infected with malaria and measuring their antibody levels. This research experience convinced me further I wanted to be a scientist and study immunology. I was still fascinated by the bio-engineering side of immunology, so I joined the laboratory of Pedro Romero, at the University of Lausanne. There, I studied the genetic modification of CD8+ T cells to increase their potency as tumor-destroying cells, in the context of adaptive cell transfer therapy. I was mostly working on melanoma cancer models, which gave me a new interest in the skin. What a complex and fascinating organ! I also decided that, in order to complete my training as an immunologist, I wanted to study the opposite phenomenon of cancer – autoimmunity. Which brought me here, at Columbia University, studying skin autoimmune diseases in the Dermatology Department.

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

When I started I was split between two labs. Part of my research focused on the autoimmune disease Alopecia Areata (AA), in which patients lose part or the totality of their hair. My other subject of study was, and still is, lipid-specific T cells. It has recently been discovered that T cells can bind to a receptor called “CD1a” and mount an immune response against lipids. Since CD1a is widely expressed in skin dendritic cells, we are studying the role of these cells in the skin. Hence my three main research questions have been:

1. What are the T cell receptors driving hairloss in a mouse model for AA?

2. Can a tolerogenic DNA vaccine approach be used to prevent or reverse AA?

3. What is the role of CD1a-restricted T cells in human skin inflammation and homeostasis?

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

My time here has allowed me to keep practicing the skills I had acquired during my PhD (mouse model of diseases, primary human and mouse cell culture, multicolour flow cytometry, cloning and retroviral plasmid generation) and to acquire new knowledge (single cell RNA and TCR sequencing, lipid immunology, mouse and human skin processing and extraction of immune cells).

What is the best part of your job?            

The best part of the job is the freedom to figure out research questions.
Why do you love science?

Science allows us to understand the world around us better, to solve practical problems we encounter as humans. And of course, to live the longest healthiest lives possible.

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

The most important qualities, in my opinion, are curiosity and perseverance. One needs to be curious to find out the answer to a research question, otherwise the day-to-day frustration and experimental hurdles will not seem worth it.

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

Besides being a scientist, I am a rock climber and amateur musician. I just started learning to play bass. I also love reading, both fiction and non-fiction, and discussing science with a broad audience. Which is why I joined CUPS.

What is your favorite thing about NYC?

The multitude of things to do or see. One can never run out of activities to do here. Also, for any interest, there will be a community of people out there, ready to welcome you and share their passion with you. I have experienced that with climbing, but I know it is true for almost anything!

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

I joined 6 months ago the Outreach and Communication committee. I don’t have a specific role but I have been helping out with organizing events, such as for example the most recent Trivia Night we recently organized with the group.

What do you like the most about CUPS? 

I like that CUPS is allowing a sense of community amongst Columbia Postdocs. Depending on the lab that one works in, being a postdoc can be a pretty isolating experience. By organizing various events, CUPS not only helps us hone our skills, and prepares us to various careers in science, but most importantly allows us to connect with one another and support each other through our day to day research.

To follow Gwennaëlle:




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.

To follow Marie:




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.


  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.

To follow Chloé:




Science Trivia Night

Science Trivia Night:

September 24th, 2019 @ Black & White (Organizers: Outreach & Communications Committee) 

Returning back to work after the summer can be hard for everyone, that’s why at CUPS we try to bring you as much fun as possible! At the end of this summer season the Outreach & Communications Committee prepared a Science Trivia Night to brush up a little bit our “general” scientific knowledge.  We enjoyed the fun side of science, tried to break some science myths and highlighted some of the amazing work that women scientists have been doing for years. All mixed with some fantastic beers!








Stay tuned for more Science Trivia!