Postbac at JAX programs embrace diversity, provide training for college graduates

A photo of JAX Trainee Harsha Tamtam The Jackson Laboratory trainee Harsha Tamtam

The M.D.-Ph.D. Fellows Program and new Ph.D. researchers program in data science and genomics bring diverse scientific talent to JAX.

For recent college graduates wishing to take the next step in their scientific careers, Postbaccalaureate Training at JAX combines hands-on lab experience with opportunities for professional development, community building among groups underrepresented in the sciences and personalized graduate school preparation to help up-and-coming scientists stand out in an increasingly competitive field.

The Jackson Laboratory offers two distinct postbaccalaureate opportunities:

  • The M.D.-Ph.D. Postbac Fellows Program provides a full-time research experience and specialized training to prepare students for careers as physician-scientists. Since its inception in 2017, participants have been accepted to doctoral programs across the country, including those at Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis, Yale University and other prestigious institutions.

  • The new Postbac Researchers Program focuses on the intersection of genomics and data science to prepare students for the rigors of a Ph.D. program. Drawing on JAX’s world-class data science capabilities at JAX, trainees develop their knowledge of bioinformatics, programming languages, high-performance computing and other topics to enhance their competitive skill set.

Though the programs are distinct, they share elements designed to “educate the whole scientist,” notes Meredith Theeman, Ph.D., director of predoctoral and postdoctoral education.

“Postbac trainees not only participate in a world-class research experience, but they also have the chance to enhance universal skills that help them build their identity within the scientific community,” Theeman said.

This includes opportunities for near-peer mentorship with other JAX cohorts and honing of real-world professional skills such as interviewing well, writing a formal biosketch and developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP), a common narrative tool through which scientists articulate their career aspirations. JAX also provides opportunities for the young scientists to network with experienced colleagues as they learn more about the cutting-edge research taking place in their area of interest.

Nancy Grover, a generous donor to the Postbac Program, said making a gift to the program gave her a unique opportunity to support young scientists in a new way. 

"My introduction to JAX began when my high-school-age grandson participated in the longstanding Summer Student Program on the Farmington, Conn., campus and returned the next summer to work again in the same lab,” Grover said. “His experience led me to become a supporter of that program for several years. When JAX initiated the M.D.-Ph.D. Postbac Fellows, it gave me an opportunity to help launch the new program. Doing so was especially appealing to me as it focuses on candidates from diverse and often underprivileged backgrounds, and it provides them an opportunity to explore and to begin to establish themselves in the world of genomics research."

Because all JAX postbacs identify with groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, these programs also advance the Laboratory’s commitment to diversify the field of biomedical science.

“The scientific pipeline only gets narrower and more competitive as you move through it,” Theeman said. “Our goal with JAX’s Postbac programs is to help emerging scientists solidify their passions and strengthen their ability to persist in the field over time.”

Meet the newest JAX postbacs

M.D.-Ph.D. Postbac Fellows

2023 The Jackson Laboratory M.D.-Ph.D. Postbac Fellows (l to r) Cameron Keeley-Parker, Alaura Rice, Britney Sison (l to r) Cameron Keeley-Parker, Alaura Rice, Britney Sison

Cameron Keeley-Parker

University of Richmond | B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Keeley-Parker was drawn to the Postbac fellowship opportunity at JAX because of the research opportunities it provided. “Science fascinates me because of its ability to provide a rationale for any observed phenomena,” he said. He hopes to enhance his ability to design and implement experiments, stay up to date with the latest literature and work with his peers to improve health outcomes through research. He also hopes to grow as an aspiring physician through clinical opportunities and mentorship.

Alaura Rice

Western Washington University | B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience

“JAX really stuck out to me as a great company to work for in a beautiful place doing excellent research,” Rice said. “I also really wanted to explore more cellular/molecular research questions and thought genomics would be a fascinating area to help accomplish that!” The Postbac program has given her a chance to gain more wet lab experience. Over the next two years, she hopes to settle into her identity as a scientist. “The edges of our collective knowledge hold the biggest draw for me,” she said. “I want to chase the unanswered questions.”

Britney Sison

University of Guam | B.S. in Chemistry and Biology

Sison came to JAX to participate in the cutting-edge research and to learn more about JAX’s expertise in using mouse models to study human health and disease. She wanted to gain biomedical research experience, but also needed resources for applying to graduate schools. In her words, she has learned that “critical thinking and creativity are essential in basic science research. Even though much goes into doing rigorous science, those are meaningful skills with the potential to positively impact patients’ lives.” She is eager to use her time at JAX to contribute to existing scientific knowledge.

Ph.D. Postbac Researchers

   2023 The Jackson Laboratory Ph.D. Postbac Researchers (l to r) DeAnna James, Magda Kmiecik, Naomi Mitchell-Hutchinson, Hector Orellana(l to r) DeAnna James, Magda Kmiecik, Naomi Mitchell-Hutchinson, Hector Orellana

DeAnna James

Morgan State University | B.S. in Psychology

James first came to JAX last year as part of a visiting scientists program focused on addiction research, which enabled her to meet faculty, explore the area and get a feel for JAX’s culture and goals. Over the next two years, she hopes to refine her research interests and build a strong foundation in behavioral genetics. “I genuinely appreciate the never-ending ‘why’ and forever-learning that comes with science,” she said. “I find it exciting [to consider] the vast directions things can go in.”

Magda Kmiecik

University of Vermont | B.S. in Animal Science

Kmiecik chose the Postbac at JAX program for the opportunity to immerse herself in research, to benefit from the mentorship of accomplished scientists and to build a strong graduate school skill set. She hopes to strengthen her computational skills and her communication skills to better convey scientific concepts to a lay audience. “Regarding science as a whole,” she said, “I am fascinated by the diversity in study, experiences and skills. Especially here at JAX, there are several researchers interested in a wide variety of questions. Their advice is a powerful tool to learn from.”

Naomi Mitchell-Hutchinson

Brooklyn College | B.S. in Biology with a minor in Mathematics

Mitchell-Hutchinson came to JAX to gain research experience and to expand her existing skill set. Over the next two years, she hopes to enhance her data analysis skills and her ability to design and complete experiments. She is intrigued by the dynamic quality of science. “There are always new things to discover,” she said. “I’m fascinated by the endless questions and problems to investigate.”

Hector Orellana

University of Maine | B.S. in Microbiology

Orellana wanted to participate in a postgraduate program that would help him stand out as a well-rounded Ph.D. candidate. Along with being exposed to various types of research, he appreciates the chance to enhance his skills in critical thinking. “I have always been interested in why things are the way they are,” he said. “I enjoy problem solving and developing new ways to answer questions.”

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