We welcome everyone back for the fall semester with an interview with Noelle Gillis, a doctoral candidate in UVM’s Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Sciences (CMB) program.
IMPACT: Noelle, thanks for your time. Please tell our readers where you are from and what led you to your undergraduate study area.
Noelle: I grew up in Branford, Connecticut. In high school, I took all of the science classes I could and really enjoyed it, but I quickly realized that I loved biology the most. As an undergrad at UVM, I majored in Microbiology because I wanted to focus on health-related science. As soon as I was exposed to lab courses in the MMG [Microbiology and Molecular Genetics] department, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to continue doing molecular biology. I was also fortunate enough to have a really great undergraduate research experience working with Dr. Frances Carr, which is what truly sparked my interest in research.
IMPACT: We love it when our undergraduates return for grad school. What inspired you to further your studies at UVM?
Noelle: UVM truly felt like home for me since I studied here as an undergrad. Beyond that, I was really encouraged by the fact that students and faculty are so collaborative and collegial here. Everyone in the CMB program was just so welcoming, it made me want to come back after spending time elsewhere after graduation.
IMPACT: Tell us about your experiences so far in grad school, and what it is like to work with faculty members and students in a research setting.
Noelle: One of the things I enjoy most about my research is that it is very collaborative. I interact with other students and faculty besides my primary advisor on a daily basis. Within our lab group we are very interactive, but I also work closely with students and faculty from other labs within the cancer center, and with the faculty and staff in the Vermont Integrative Genomics Resource [VIGR] core facility. It’s really nice knowing that I have support from the network around me.
IMPACT: Tell us more specifically about the type of research you are doing in Dr. Carr's lab, and tell us about the NIH award that was recently received by your team?
Noelle: The focus of my research in Dr. Carr’s lab is studying the tumor suppressive effects of the thyroid hormone receptor. Despite the fact that it’s been recognized as a tumor suppressor for over a decade, the mechanisms by which it regulates tumor growth are not clear yet. This makes it hard for the thyroid hormone receptor to be used in a clinical setting as a diagnostic tool or a therapeutic target. My project integrates information from molecular biology and large-scale genomics data sets to gain a clearer understanding of how the thyroid hormone receptor prevents a normal cell from progressing towards cancer, specifically in thyroid cells. We hope that doing this will provide us with key insights into thyroid cancer growth and progression, and allow for new cellular pathways to be explored as therapeutic options.
The NIH/NCI F99/K00 award that was recently funded is designed to promote successful transition into postdoctoral training for graduate students who are interested in pursuing careers as academic research faculty in cancer research. This means that the remainder of my graduate studies at UVM is funded, and I am able to take this fellowship with me when I take a position as a postdoc after graduation. By completing my graduate research, I will be well trained in the approaches and scientific logic needed to answer basic science questions and uncover molecular mechanisms of disease. In the next phase, I want to pursue my broader interests in nuclear receptor mediated epigenetic programming and crosstalk in cancer in an environment that will allow me to expand my expertise in hormone-mediated gene regulation and engage in more translational research.
IMPACT: Congratulations on the award -- that is very exciting work. Are there any faculty members in Grad School that have been particularly important to you, and why?
Noelle: Of course, I owe a lot to my advisor, Dr. Frances Carr. We have been working together for about six years now, and she is an incredible mentor and role model for me in every way. She pushes me to be a better student and scientist on daily basis, and I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s taught me. In addition, Dr. Seth Frietze and Dr. Jane Lian have also both been very closely involved in my training in graduate school and co-sponsored my F99/K00 application. Their expertise and mentorship have made a huge impact on my experience as a graduate student.
IMPACT: Tell our readers where you are in your graduate education and what you plan to
do after graduating.
Noelle: I am just beginning the fourth year of my PhD program. After graduation, I plan to pursue a postdoc position in a lab that studies hormone-dependent cancers where I can gain some new training and broaden my technical skill set. After that, I hope to become research faculty and start my own lab. I really enjoy the intellectual freedom and spirit that is associated with academic science.
IMPACT: Noelle, we wish you the best of luck with your studies and career!