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Changing fields in grad school

Elizabeth Singer singer at xenon.chem.ucla.edu
Wed Apr 2 00:13:05 EST 1997

I forgot to save the previous post concerning the disatisfaction of a first
year graduate student with her advisor, but I recognized that her situation 
parallels mine to a certain degree.  But I have found a resolution to the 
problem without having to change graduate schools.

I am currently in my second year in Biochemistry and have finished all the 
preliminary requirements for the PhD and preparing for Orals.  I came to UCLA
with a certain objective in mind: I wanted to solve protein structures (either
by Crystallography or NMR) and use these as a basis for Structure Based Drug 
Design.  I had no specific project in mind though.  I had some previous 
experience.  I have receieved a Bachelors in Biochemistry from Purdue where I
also worked in a Crystallography lab: making, purifying and attempting to
crystallize a protein.  I then spent three years working at a Biotech company
in a Crystallography lab: crystallizing proteins, collecting data, and doing
prelinary data analysis.  I contacted a professor at UCLA about coming to 
Graduate School there and he invited me to give the group meeting, which I did.
I applied and was accepted and started my first year.  During rotations I
learned from him that his lab was *very* full, and so were all the other 
crystallography labs.  I did not consider the NMR lab to be a viable option,
so I was stuck.  I went to another professor and I suggested a project in 
which I would attempt to solve the structure of his favorite protein.  It is
involved in breast cancer, and has the advantage of being a target for drug
design, if I could solve the structure.  I proposed this project to the two
professors and they agreed.  However the crystallography professor beasically
said that there was no room in his lab, but he tentatively agreed to let me 
express and purify the protein in his lab.  So for 6 months (while I was 
taking classes, TAing, taking qualifying exams) I worked almost exclusively
in his lab trying to express the protein in E.coli.  Meanwhile I had no desk
and minimal bench space.  Ultimately it failed because of an inherent problem
with the system and when I gave group meeting that was the general consensus.
The professor suggested that I fing a more "biological" project and work in the
other lab and that he couldn't be my advisor.  Meanwhile the other professor 
is saying that he will help in whatever way he can and will give me whatever
I need.  (I think that he really wants the structure).  I had to give group m
meeting in his lab several weeks later where I presented the old results, and 
a proposal for 3 new projects, 2 of which were crystallography projects, and one
more standard biological project.  If I were to solve these structures, they
would be *very* hot.  And they would give me some exposure  in these fields
and increase my chances of getting a job later.  I am currently cloning a 
doamin of this protein in E.coli and hope to be expressing it very soon.  The
problem is that the crystallography professor has not been supportive in this
project.  I have asked him if I could work in his lab on the expression and
purification because the cancer lab simply does not have the facilities and I
am waiting for his reply.  (I only asked him today).  He has said yes in the
past, but I take nothing for granted anymore.  The cancer professor has been
extremely supportive and has basically said yes to everything I have suggested.
But I want to solve structures and he says that he can't give me the advice I
need in that field.  The crysatllography professor says that he can't advise me
either (but I think it's because he doesn't want to).  

What do think?  Have I taken the right approach?  Its hard here because there
doesn't seem to be many women professors in this field here, and it would be
nice to talk to someone objectively about it.  (Perhaps someone who has been 
through it before).  I would be most grateful for advice/suggestions/moral 
support.  My email address is singer at xenon.chem.ucla.edu.  I am still trying 
to work through this and sometimes I have trouble dealing with it.  



singer at xenon.chem.ucla.edu

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