Daniel J. Coleman is a PhD candidate in Arup Indra’s laboratory. He was supported by the NIEHS training grant for predoctoral trainees for two years, and has established an impressive record of research. In addition to his research, Dan has participated in EHSC outreach events, including the 2013 Pet Days. Dan will be graduating in 2014 with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology.
Daniel J. Coleman
NIEHS Training Grant recipient (2010 – 2012)
Recipient of multiple awards for research presentations
Holds three patents
Research focus: My research centers around identifying genes that have a role in development of skin cancers resulting from solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In particular we are interested in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Despite our often cloudy weather, Oregon has the 5th highest melanoma incidence rate in the U.S. Our laboratory uses mouse models to conduct our research. The genetic makeup of a mouse is largely orthologous to that of humans. Despite being a hairy nocturnal animal, their skin is also very similar in morphology to our own. We have the technology to remove genes of interest from specific cell types in our mice and study the effects in combination with UV radiation. Genes we have identified as having a role in cancer development represent potential new therapeutic targets that hopefully can be used to treat patients in the future.
What is your research background? Science always suited me, but originally I thought I was going to go into dentistry. I liked the prerequisite science classes, but I was lukewarm on the idea of dental school. After I graduated from the University of Oregon, I found a job at Marker Gene Technologies in Eugene, OR. I had a very strong science background, but little practical knowledge of being in a lab or doing science at the bench, so the job was difficult at first. One of my projects was to clone a luciferase gene into a vector, so that under the correct conditions, the cells would emit light. When those cells finally lit up, showing me that I had done the procedure correctly, that was the springboard for me. From that point on, practical application of science in the lab just clicked for me; I feel it’s what I was meant to do. There is a part of me that still loves doing science simply because you get to see “cool stuff” happen, but seeing how these small experiments contribute to the greater whole is what gives me purpose as a scientist.
After two years at Marker Gene I applied to graduate school at Oregon State University. I chose OSU because I like the balance between life and research that is practiced here, and I work with a professor who has been very supportive of me and my research.
Advice to new students? First off, when you are interviewing with a professor, take the time to meet the other people in their lab. Get a feel for the culture of that particular lab. It’s also important to make sure your professor can fund your research for the duration of your program. A PhD is hard enough as it is, so working in a lab that can afford all the tools necessary for your research, and provide you with the means to live is critical. Secondly, be a diverse scientist. I have a background in biochemistry, doing enzyme assays, and I’ll have a PhD working with skin cells and melanoma. Science is becoming more diversified, and as scientists, we need to be just as diverse with our skill sets. Third, part of doing your PhD is learning to become autonomous. It’s a skill that is just as important as learning how to do flawless qPCR. You also need to learn to acknowledge your talents, and use that to find your niche in research.
What is next for you? Rather than pigeonhole myself into a specific scientific discipline, I prefer to view myself as simply a scientist. I’ve had the opportunity at OSU to work on some amazing translational science projects, even collaborating with groups at the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), but I also have a strong background in biochemistry. For the future, I want to move into basic research science. I do know I want to stay in the field of cancer research. To do this job, you have to have passion. My passion is researching ways to prevent and fight against cancer.