An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Lauren Liddell | May 11, 2012

We graduate students at City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences have a unique opportunity that sets us apart from students at other schools. This exclusive opportunity is known among students as “the LEL,” something those outside the graduate student realm might recognize as the Leading Edge Lecture series.

The Leading Edge Lectures are a student-hosted seminar series where we invite investigators from across the country to share their research. These seminars provide us the opportunity to learn about exciting areas in biomedical research from the experts themselves!

When you dedicate four to seven years of your life to graduate school, you agree to a life of reading papers. After all, “reading a paper a day won’t keep graduation at bay.” Who wouldn’t want to meet in person the investigators whose papers you read daily? Wouldn’t you want to ask them your questions face-to-face, discuss future studies one-on-one or even contribute to the biological discussion by making your own personal suggestions? The LEL provides students these opportunities, and more. Meeting with the speakers also leaves a lasting impression, and broadens your professional network, which can create a potential postdoctoral training opportunity in the future.

I am a fourth-year graduate student in the laboratory of Adam Bailis, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and my thesis is focused on studying the essential link between DNA replication and the homologous recombination apparatus, using budding yeast as a model organism. Because of her expertise in telomere biology and investigation into the intersecting roles of telomere replication and the maintenance of genomic stability, I am particularly intrigued by Dr. Virginia Zakian’s work, and this is the reason I invited her to speak for the February edition of the LEL.

The Guest Speaker Virginia Zakian, Ph.D., graduated cum laude from Cornell University, where she studied Xenopus development with Antonie Blackler, Ph.D. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University, where her research focused on DNA replication in Drosophila under the instruction of J. G. Gall, Ph.D. After that, she received her postdoctoral training at Princeton, where she worked on the replication of adeno- and SV40 viruses. She continued her training at the University of Washington, further investigating DNA replication in yeast. Upon completion of her training, she held faculty positions at both the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. After her time in Washington, she moved back to Princeton where she is the Harry C. Wiess Professor in the Life Sciences in the Department of Molecular Biology. Her research interests currently are focused on telomere maintenance and DNA replication fork progression.

The Experience This was a very rewarding experience. Not only did it force me to investigate my field of research more deeply and expand my presentation skills, it also allowed me to interact with, and gain insight from, one of the leading experts in telomere biology. On top of all this, who knew it would be so much fun?

I highly recommend that all graduate students make it a point to invite an LEL speaker at least once during their graduate student careers. It was an experience that I truly will never forget.