Becky Smith is a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Genetics Graduate Program with an expected graduation date of fall 2008. After receiving a BS in Biology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she chose to come to graduate school at UAB because she was impressed with the amount of clinical exposure provided by the UAB Genetics Department. 
Specifically, Becky says she works on a Bone Morphogenic Protein pathway that is important for proper synaptic development in Drosophila larvae. “My project focuses on how the active pathway is transported from the synaptic terminal to the neuron nucleus where gene transcription can take place. An implication of my research is towards neurodegenerative diseases where neuron survival signals are not able to reach the nucleus, causing the neuron to die. Also, discovering the basics of synaptic remodeling has larger implications on how synapses are strengthened during learning.”

The awards and honors Becky has received since attending UAB are the UAB Medical Alumni Association’s Carmichael Scholarship; 1st place in life sciences—session 2 at the 2006 UAB Graduate Student Research Days; 2nd place presentation at the 2006 UAB Cell Biology retreat; and 2nd place in life sciences—session 9 at the 2008 UAB Graduate Student Research Days. Although these accomplishments are impressive, her most rewarding experience happened during the summer of 2006. She explains, “I was chosen to participate in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory summer course ‘Neurobiology of Drosophila.’ It was really an outstanding experience because I learned so much about my research model and met many wonderful professors and students. Each day, the class heard lectures by famous scientists and it was incredible to be able to learn directly from professors that I have read so much about. It was refreshing to recognize that these famous scientists were regular people that I could identify with. I also made wonderful friendships with the students on this trip that I hope will become life-long contacts.”

Becky’s mentor, Guillermo Marques, has been a great influence for her. “He has spent extensive time with me working on my presentation skills.  Also he has been very forthcoming with his grants, letting myself and other students in the lab read them and provide input, which has been helpful to understand the whole research process. Because I was in the first class of students in my program and I went into a lab where I was the first graduate student, there were no senior students that I could ask advice.  Knowing one’s role as a graduate student is not intuitive, so I sought guidance from other graduate students that worked in different labs on my floor.  I really appreciate Kelly Harms for all of her help and advice during my initial years as a graduate student.”

Becky says that results are a big motivation for her. “ I am just excited about figuring out the answer to my project’s question.  Now that I am in my 5th year of graduate studies, the experiments that I need to complete to answer my question have become clearer.  I also get to do a lot of very exciting confocal imaging.  We fluorescently tag our proteins and then I use the microscope to watch them move around in a cell- Super cool!”

Graduate School can be stressful, so Becky uses exercise to manage her stress. “I really love going to the gym and exercising. It helps me manage stress and sleep better. All students that don’t go to UAB’s Recreation Facility are missing out. They have great UFit classes that everyone should try. I also am involved in an Environmental group, Green Initiative at UAB, whose goal is to encourage UAB to start a recycling program, increase energy conservation, and reduce UAB’s overall carbon footprint. Check out our Facebook site:

After graduation, Becky thinks she may go into a Clinical Laboratory Genetics post-doctoral position and hopes to one day run a Cytogenetics laboratory.

 Becky’s advice for other graduate students:
“Around the third year of graduate school, I think that it is typical for students to enter a slump because their project might not be making the progress that they expected.  My advice is to push through this rough period because things will get better.  If you hang in there, your later success will be even more rewarding.Most importantly, I think that graduate school has been a growth experience for me. Regardless of future endeavors, I feel that graduate school has helped me become more confident and forgiving of myself.  I have become more satisfied with my life in general and understand that success or failure in my career is not going to define me as a person.”