A showpiece for research
By Jan Jarvis
Brent Shell’s work went unrewarded the first time he presented a poster at Research Appreciation Day, but he did not give up.
Bruce Beutler, MD, shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He is the Director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Dr. Beutler is known for his work in unlocking the secret of how the body detects infection and launches an inflammatory response. His current endeavors involve attempting to identify every gene involved in the response to potentially infectious agents like bacteria and viruses.
April 7, 12:30 p.m.
He entered again the next year and won in three categories. By the time he graduated in 2016, he had taken home $1,000 in prize money and something far more beneficial than cash.
He had come to see how important research was to his career and the big picture.
“Winning awards required both innovative research and a brief explanation that connected the specifics of the topic to its meaning in the world at large,” said Shell, PhD. “As I pursue my career, I am hoping to find a balance between teaching and research so that I can contribute to the body of science while helping new physiologists master the basics of how biological systems work.”
When RAD marks its Jubilee Memorial Celebration on April 7, students and faculty will gather to showcase their latest discoveries. Since it was created 25 years ago, this institutional tradition has served as a way to not only recognize and reward students but to allow faculty to learn what others on campus are doing, said its founder, Thomas Yorio, PhD.
RAD benefits students and faculty in many different ways, but its impact extends beyond the campus, said Dr. Yorio, Professor, North Texas Eye Research Institute.
“It allows the external community to see what we have done,” he said. “It’s a great way for the community to learn who we are.”
The many rewards
From a student’s perspective, RAD provides skills that can be utilized as a physician, scientist and educator.
“Competing in RAD provided an invaluable opportunity to explain complicated concepts in relatable, understandable terms, which was crucial to helping me develop my teaching skills,” Dr. Shell said.
After defending his dissertation last July, Dr. Shell moved on to a teaching position at the University of Massachusetts.
“The experience that he received at RAD helped him build his presentation and teaching skills – and it ultimately helped him get his teaching job,” said Tom Cunningham, PhD, Dr. Shell’s dissertation supervisor and Professor for the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease.
Participating in RAD also prepares students to present their studies to larger audiences at conferences around the globe. It lays the groundwork for publication in scientific journals, as Justin Sprick, a PhD candidate in the Cerebral & Cardiovascular Physiology Laboratory, has discovered.
“By practicing presentations at a local level, you get constructive feedback, experience and a level of comfort that prepares you for presenting at national conferences,” Sprick said.
Working with his mentor, Caroline Rickards, PhD, Sprick has been able to pursue research on blood flow restriction exercises. He plans to submit at least two manuscripts that demonstrate how this exercise modality could potentially reduce the reoccurrence of heart attacks and strokes.
Faculty members have long recognized the value of RAD, both as participants and observers.
“Every year we all get an opportunity to see the breadth of research conducted in research laboratories across the UNTHSC campus,” said Dr. Rickards, Assistant Professor, Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease. “It allows students and faculty to appreciate the work of their colleagues.”
Dr. Brett Mueller, who earned a dual DO/PhD degree, sees its value as both a researcher and physician. He is now at the University of Louisville, where he is chief ophthalmology resident.
“RAD was a great opportunity to present research, get exposure to new ideas and to see how you can improve your research,” he said. “It also helps when applying for residency programs.”
The history of RAD
Over 25 years, RAD has grown significantly and given hundreds of students an opportunity to share their research.
The idea of an annual event to showcase student’s research developed just as the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences was getting off the ground. The first year the event was called the Research Appreciation Program or RAP, which sounded trendy at the time, Dr. Yorio said. But a year later it was changed to RAD and has remained that way.
For that first event, 102 abstracts were submitted. By 2016, the number of abstracts had grown to 264, covering a wide range of research areas including aging, cancer and neuroscience.
When RAD marks its 25th anniversary on Friday, the tradition will carry on for another year.
“It provides so many opportunities to students and faculty,” Dr. Yorio said. “It’s really such a great day.”
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