GS: Where are you from?
WE: Scottsboro, Alabama
GS: What degree are you pursuing?
WE: A Ph.D. in Cell Biology. I will graduate in December, 2010.
GS: What is your research?
WE: We use the nematode C. elegans as a model to study the events that lead to
fertilization. My project focuses on how insulin signaling regulates the production of
lipid signaling molecules called prostaglandins, which direct sperm migration in the C. elegans reproductive tract.
GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
WE: My wife and I are both graduate students. Birmingham is about halfway between my
family and hers, so it seemed like the best fit for us in order to be close to our families.
GS: Have you received any awards or honors?
WE: Yes, I received the Dean's award for Outstanding Student in the Joint Health Sciences as well as the Outstanding Student award for Cell Biology at this year's Honors Convocation.
GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
WE: My community outreach project. As President of the UAB chapter of Scientists and
Engineers for America (UAB SEA), I organize and teach a monthly science lab for the fifth-grade class at Charles A. Brown Elementary School in West End. The goal of this project is to foster a greater interest in science and math using hands-on, inquiry-based lab time. We plan to use the outcomes data from this project to advocate for increased funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education within the state of Alabama. The feedback from students and their parents has been overwhelming, and the excitement in the kids’ eyes each month has been more rewarding than I could possibly have imagined. We plan to continue this service into the next academic year.
GS: Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
WE: My mentor, Michael Miller. He has taught me the importance of being organized and
efficient in the lab. He is definitely a “do things right the first time” kind of guy. As it turns out, if you are organized in your work and plan things properly, it is possible for a scientist to have a life outside of the lab. Who woulda thunk it? In fact, a healthy amount of time away from work, doing the things you like to do, actually breeds more productivity while in the lab. The single greatest thing Michael has done for me as a mentor, and I can’t praise him enough for it, has been to allow me to seek my own path as a scientist. He has been very open to all of my academic interests, whether at the bench or not. As a result, I think I will find myself happier and more successful in my career 10 years from now than I might have been with a less understanding and flexible mentor.
GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?
WE: The uncertainty that each day brings. You never know from one week to the next which
experiments will work, which ones won’t, and what amazing discoveries you may make. This uncertainty, while being frustrating at times, keeps my job interesting and makes me always look forward to the next day.
GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
WE: I plan to move to Washington DC to pursue a career in science policy.
GS: Is there anything else you would like to say?
WE: I would just like to thank all of the faculty members, deans, and other administrators
that have mentored me as a student, especially the ones who have treated me as a colleague rather than a subordinate. Your guidance has been invaluable.
Wes’s advice for other graduate students:
Never expect your program’s general mandatory curriculum to prepare you for your future. Take control of your educational experience. You have the right – maybe even the responsibility – to expect more opportunities, and to seek them. Know yourself, know your strengths, and play to them. Finally, don’t let your mentor – or anyone else for that matter – beat you down and push you toward a career that you will be unhappy with. Ten years from now, YOU will be the only one losing any sleep over your level of satisfaction with your career.