Faculty Spotlight

By Nicole Zatorski

Dr. Filizola is the recipient of an endowed chair, the Sharon & Frederick A.
Klingenstein-Nathan G. Kase, MD Professorship, and the Dean of the Graduate
School of Biomedical Sciences. She is a dedicated leader in computational
biophysics of membrane proteins with over 20 years of experience in the
application of methods of computational and theoretical chemistry to biochemical
and biomedical problems, as well as to rational drug design. Dr. Filizola’s
research program is mainly focused on G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCRs),
which are the targets for about half of all currently used drugs. 

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Alumni Feature

Dr. Ayotunde Dokun is a distinguished alumnus of the MSTP program at Mount Sinai and the winner of the 2018 Terry Ann Krulwich Physician-Scientist Alumni Award. He attended this year’s MSTP retreat at Honor’s Haven where he was the Keynote speaker. We were lucky to hear him speak about his career, and for this feature in the newsletter, I was able to delve deeper and learn more about his time at Sinai and beyond.

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A Message from the Director

The Mount Sinai MSTP is now comfortably into the fall of its 47th year and its 41st year of NIH funding! Our 12 new students matriculated into the MSTP in early July and immersed themselves immediately into their laboratory rotations and the interactive course Problem Solving in Biomedical Sciences (PSBS), in which they worked collaboratively and brainstormed with a group of enthusiastic faculty to propose studies that address critical biomedical problems. PSBS ended with a stimulating day of rotation presentations by the MD1 students, with MD2 students providing individual feedback (including comments from MTA Directors). They have completed their first course in medical school, STRUCTURES and are now back in graduate school mode for the MSTP core course, Biomedical Sciences for MD/PhDs. They have rapidly integrated into the MSTP and we look forward to following their growth and progress over the coming years.

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Marching with WiMSTP

By Christie Nguyen, MD2

Women in MSTP has been going full steam ahead since our official launch in the spring of 2015! As a group, we aim to advocate for and support the success of women in the Medical Scientist Training Program at ISMMS through mentorship and educational efforts. Read more

The First-Year Sinai MSTP’s Guide to NYC

By David Gonzalez and Tucker Matthews (MD1)

Tucker Matthews, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

New York is absolutely incredible for live music and Warsaw is a concert venue in Brooklyn that feels like a community center. I got to see this Brooklyn-based hippie-dance-punk band there, and it was incredible. Milano’s is just hands down my favorite bar in the city. It’s this super tiny hallway-shaped bar down on Houston, there are polaroids of patrons from the ‘90s on the wall, and it just has the greatest feel to it, in a way that you can only really get in NYC.

Christian Stevens, Harvey Mudd College:

New York is about balancing history with pragmatism. Of course I’d love to have a beer at the spot where Abraham Lincoln and America’s first spy, Nathan Hale, would meet in secret to discuss the evacuation of the British from Manhattan. But chances are, that bar is expensive and not real. But there are places, like St. Marks Place, where the history may not sound quite so grand but it feels more important. Ada Calhoun referred to St. Marks Place by saying: “the street is not for people who have chosen their lives … [it] is for the wanderer, the undecided, the lonely, and the promiscuous.” And finally, when you’re winding down your night, right before you head over to take the long and lonely 4, 5, 6 up to 96th street, you can stop by 2 Bros. There you’ll find the best $1 pizza in America, hands down.

Camille van Neste, Stanford University:

In the beginning of the year, New York hit international headlines for an unusual reason: the giant corpse flower at the Bronx Botanical garden was about to bloom. Shoulder to shoulder with an immense crowd, I observed botanical history. Even when the corpse flower is blooming, the botanical gardens and adjacent zoo provide a welcome, green respite from the smelly concrete jungle of Manhattan.

Varun Arvind, Rutgers University-New Brunswick:

One of the first weekends I went to Lombardi’s, a great slice of history and food. Equally fun was just walking around the city going into old bookstores and interesting places. NYC is great because you can just be walking around and serendipitously find a cool new store, restaurant, mural, place, or interesting people.

David Gonzalez, Brown University:

The public library on 42nd street next to Bryant Park is immense and a beautiful space to study in with some really impressive reading rooms that have just been renovated. On days when I don’t have mandatory class, I like to grab a coffee and head down there for the day to study. Its a great way to get away from the UES and explore a bit of NY while staying on top of your classes. During Structures a bunch of first years went to an improv show centered around Raiders of the Lost Ark. Audience members could propose a shift to a scene from a different movie three times during the show, and the actors had to find a way to incorporate it into the current storyline they were acting out, as well as incorporate lines written by audience members that were given to them on a piece of paper before the start of the show. Tickets for shows like this will run you a whopping $10 and are a great spontaneous thing to do in the evening.

Joel Kim, University of Rochester:

Central Park is literally a five minute walk from the student residence, Aron Hall. What is especially worth appreciation is the beautiful reservoir that is located very close by. As someone who enjoys jogging, it is a great way to destress and appreciate a nice view of nature in the midst of a crowded, bustling city.

Sahil Agrawal, Harvard University:

One lazy summer afternoon, I found myself enjoying oysters and craft cocktails on a historic sailboat anchored on the Hudson River — ‘Grand Banks.’ The gentle waves nudged the boat along and the setting sun cast a brilliant red-orange hue on the horizon, highlighting the skyline of the lower east side; in the distant, I could even make out the Statue of Liberty.

Louise Malle, University of Pennsylvania:

Dancing to disco music at a Chinese restaurant that doubles as a hipster nightclub in a desolate street in the Financial districtChina Chalet on Broadway and Morris Street. Spending a sunny afternoon in Chelsea looking at all the art we’ll never be able to afford and admiring NY street style.

Amara Plaza-Jennings, Princeton University:

I normally hate waiting in lines, but when videos started popping up of Dō, a place that makes (safe!) raw cookie dough that they serve like ice cream, I thought maybe it would be worth it. I waited in line with classmates for over an hour and it was freezing cold. I don’t know if I’ll be waiting in trendy food lines again anytime soon, but it was a very New York experience that I am glad I got to have.

Christie Nguyen, Stanford University:

Dominique Ansel Bakery, home to the cookie shot (also the cronut), a life-changing cup shaped cookie filled with tahitian vanilla milk. In classic new york style, it’s only sold at 3pm everyday and there’s usually a short line.

Fred Kwon, University of Pennsylvania:

The first time I visited New York, I wanted to appreciate the New York City landscape. I was recommended the cost efficient observatory deck at Rockefeller Center, from which you can see skyscrapers and appreciate how rectangular Central Park is. While I was in the area, I checked out the bizarre and fascinating Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) and dropped by Nintendo NYC to take a photo with my favorite plumber brothers.

ISMMS Alumni Interview: Vivek Rudrapatna, MD PhD ’14

By Cindy Tian (MP2)

Vivek grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey and graduated from Harvard University in 2006 with a degree in Biophysics. After completing his MD/PhD from Mount Sinai in 2014, he went on to an Internal Medicine fast-track at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Currently, Vivek is in the first year of a UCSF Research Track (T32) Fellowship where he plans to pursue research interests in machine learning applications to gastroenterology/nutrition. He lives in San Francisco and in his spare time enjoys Carnatic (Indian Classical) violin music and traveling with his wife.

CINDY: How did you feel the MD/PhD path shaped your view of medicine and science?

VIVEK: Having a scientific background has definitely enriched my appreciation and understanding of medicine — in my mind the skillset required to plan experiments is the very same skillset required to reason through complex medical problems. It helps one to more critically appraise the literature, identify the important (and not-so-important) questions in the field, and think outside of the box in a way physicians aren’t always naturally good at. Of course a career in medicine helps one identify important questions and appreciate how research at all levels may contribute to the future of practice.

CINDY: How did you choose Internal Medicine?

VIVEK: I think IM is one of the most natural fits for a physician-scientist because it is a highly cognitive specialty that embraces most of the science that we do. Whether in genetics, MCB, immunology, microbiology, developmental biology, or cancer biology — our benchwork is definitely hitting the bedside (I’ve seen so many examples in just the last two years out of med school). Medicine is a highly versatile training pathway with so many fellowship offerings and is relatively short (2-3 years).

CINDY: Advice for students at different stages of training?

VIVEK: 1) No matter the stage of training you’re in, focus your efforts on getting the most out of the experience you can — those are the skills and insights you’ll carry with you forever.

2) Your residency options depends heavily on your medical school ranking, which depends heavily on your medical school performance (e.g. Step 1, MS3) and relatively little on your graduate school performance. Residencies want to pick doctors who will take good care of their patients — research prowess is icing on the cake but not a replacement for medical competence. However, when applying for fellowships (and/ or the last step of your career before eventually getting the job you want) your PhD will suddenly become more valuable in the eyes of academic programs seeking to find people with track records most likely to succeed at an academic career.

3) It’s long and it can be trying and difficult at times. Be adaptable and learn different things from different people (and try to learn from everyone). Stay humble. Don’t lose hope! All tough times will eventually pass. You are smart and you can do it!

Congratulations to our 2017 MSTP matching seniors!


Words to live by?

Megan: “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

Mitra: The person on the operating room table is someone in your own family.

Biggest change/challenge you experienced over your MDPhD?

Noa: Constantly feeling like I wasn’t sure what was expected of me and how to compare myself to others around me (both in research and back in the clinical years). This was 99% in my head so be smarter than me and try to avoid making yourself miserable if you can!

Rachel: I definitely felt left behind – especially these past few years – as my classmates from the beginning of med school or college breezed through residency while I still had so much training to do. But it’s important to enjoy each step of the process and not just focus on the end.

What was the coolest thing you learned in your PhD?

David: That the general approaches I was using in the tiny, specialized segment of academia I was occupying were actually useful for studying almost anything in the realm of fact. The Practical Analysis of Your Personal Genome and Q.E.D. classes were really great (extra-curricular?) experiences too.

What did you come in thinking of specializing in and how did it evolve?

Tim: I started thinking I would be interested in internal medicine, which ended up continuing throughout the 8 years. I had done cardiology research prior to starting at Sinai, so was interested in cardiology but hadn’t fully committed to it yet. However, my PhD was cardiology (I learned to make artificial hearts in a dish!) and I fell in love with cardiovascular physiology, so my initial interests ended up carrying all the way through!

Harish: I initially wanted to do Peds, but as I spent time on the wards, I realized how limited my clinical experiences were, which was in stark comparison to how diverse my scientific experiences had been. I learned that I liked outpatient flow, working with cancer patients, and incorporating an anatomical approach to disease, which led me to radiation oncology. Plus, rad onc is a field with so many MD/PhDs who are receptive to doing good science.