Changing fields in grad school

Leemor Joshua-Tor leemor at CSHL.ORG
Wed Apr 2 08:59:51 EST 1997

Beth wrote:

>I forgot to save the previous post concerning the disatisfaction of a first
>year graduate student with her advisor, but I recognized that her situation
>parallels mine to a certain degree.  But I have found a resolution to the
>problem without having to change graduate schools.
>I am currently in my second year in Biochemistry and have finished all the
>preliminary requirements for the PhD and preparing for Orals.  I came to UCLA
>with a certain objective in mind: I wanted to solve protein structures (either
>by Crystallography or NMR) and use these as a basis for Structure Based Drug
>Design.  I had no specific project in mind though.  I had some previous
>experience.  I have receieved a Bachelors in Biochemistry from Purdue where I
>also worked in a Crystallography lab: making, purifying and attempting to
>crystallize a protein.  I then spent three years working at a Biotech company
>in a Crystallography lab: crystallizing proteins, collecting data, and doing
>prelinary data analysis.  I contacted a professor at UCLA about coming to
>Graduate School there and he invited me to give the group meeting, which I did.
>I applied and was accepted and started my first year.  During rotations I
>learned from him that his lab was *very* full, and so were all the other
>crystallography labs.  I did not consider the NMR lab to be a viable option,
>so I was stuck.  I went to another professor and I suggested a project in
>which I would attempt to solve the structure of his favorite protein.  It is
>involved in breast cancer, and has the advantage of being a target for drug
>design, if I could solve the structure.  I proposed this project to the two
>professors and they agreed.  However the crystallography professor beasically
>said that there was no room in his lab, but he tentatively agreed to let me
>express and purify the protein in his lab.  So for 6 months (while I was
>taking classes, TAing, taking qualifying exams) I worked almost exclusively
>in his lab trying to express the protein in E.coli.  Meanwhile I had no desk
>and minimal bench space.  Ultimately it failed because of an inherent problem
>with the system and when I gave group meeting that was the general consensus.
>The professor suggested that I fing a more "biological" project and work in the
>other lab and that he couldn't be my advisor.  Meanwhile the other professor
>is saying that he will help in whatever way he can and will give me whatever
>I need.  (I think that he really wants the structure).  I had to give group m
>meeting in his lab several weeks later where I presented the old results, and
>a proposal for 3 new projects, 2 of which were crystallography projects,
>and one
>more standard biological project.  If I were to solve these structures, they
>would be *very* hot.  And they would give me some exposure  in these fields
>and increase my chances of getting a job later.  I am currently cloning a
>doamin of this protein in E.coli and hope to be expressing it very soon.  The
>problem is that the crystallography professor has not been supportive in this
>project.  I have asked him if I could work in his lab on the expression and
>purification because the cancer lab simply does not have the facilities and I
>am waiting for his reply.  (I only asked him today).  He has said yes in the
>past, but I take nothing for granted anymore.  The cancer professor has been
>extremely supportive and has basically said yes to everything I have suggested.
>But I want to solve structures and he says that he can't give me the advice I
>need in that field.  The crysatllography professor says that he can't advise me
>either (but I think it's because he doesn't want to).
>What do think?  Have I taken the right approach?  Its hard here because there
>doesn't seem to be many women professors in this field here, and it would be
>nice to talk to someone objectively about it.  (Perhaps someone who has been
>through it before).  I would be most grateful for advice/suggestions/moral
>support.  My email address is singer at  I am still trying
>to work through this and sometimes I have trouble dealing with it.
>singer at

There is actually a woman professor there in structural biology - an
NMR person, isn't there? But I'm not sure that this has anything to
do with gender really. There are two younger crystallographers at
UCLA. Have you suggested doing the project with them? They may have
more space and perhaps happen to be more interested in the project.


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