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Deborah Rupert

MD-PhD Student

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Stony Brook University

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Being realistic about time commitments is a learning process that everyone needs to periodically revisit.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am an MD-PhD student at Stony Brook University completing my graduate studies at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where I investigate cortical cell-type specific dependence on methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) for auditory processing. The Mecp2 gene codes for the protein by the same name – a ubiquitously expressed transcription factor that plays a role in maintaining mature neurons and their synaptic connections. Mutations in the Mecp2 gene are responsible for Rett Syndrome, a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder. In patients with Rett Syndrome, cell express a mosaic pattern; some produce functional MeCP2 protein and others fail to; is unclear if certain cell types are more dependent on MeCP2 than others. My work is specifically aimed at determining how subpopulations of neuronal cell types that make up the auditory cortex may be more or less dependent on functional MeCP2 for normal auditory processing of socially relevant stimuli.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

My path to an M.D.-Ph.D. has been an unusual one. I became very passionate about pursuing medicine and particularly helping children with complex medical conditions and developmental disabilities as a young adult. I spent every weekend in high school volunteering in the Child Life Department at Seattle Children’s Hospital, much of it in the Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I also assisted with Seattle Children’s Sib Shop, a service that supports siblings of children who have special needs.

 

When I matriculated to undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Julie Neiworth’s cognitive primate lab at Carleton College, studying visual and auditory discrimination tasks in cotton top tamarins and children with autism. After spending a significant portion of my undergraduate years conducting translational science, I felt very torn about whether to pursue science or medicine.

 

I ended up using several post-undergrad years to explore the spectrum of science - engaging in both bench research and in clinical trials at Columbia University. Ultimately, I wanted a career that would blend both worlds and am currently pursing my MD and PhD in Neuroscience.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

Allow yourself some space/time to react when new obstacles arise, then start making the lemonade from your lemons.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

As the saying goes- “you don’t know what you don’t know”; I only became well informed on the MD-PhD option much later after undergrad, so perhaps with that knowledge younger me would have had a lead on my current career path. My advice to undergraduate students is to think broadly when it comes to future career options and speak with as many, diverse mentors as you can gain access to.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

To me science is about pursuing answers that medicine cannot provide yet. It is privilege to be able to train as a physician who can directly help patients on a day-to-day basis while also training as a scientist who can investigate bigger questions with the potential to help larger populations in the future.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Less is more! Don’t underestimate the opportunity cost of your time; there are only so many hours in a day so choosing to prioritize the most important goals is critical for ensuring the success of those goals; reflect on whether you have the bandwidth to take on new tasks. Being realistic about time commitments is a learning process that everyone needs to periodically revisit.

INSPIRATION

Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” passage from Citizenship in a Republic.