Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


  Monique Brewster
Course:Life Sciences 1a (Ls1a) - An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology
Course Heads: Professor Daniel Kahne, Professor Rich Losick, Professor Rob Lue, Professor Susan Mango
Office Hours:Wednesday 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm and Friday 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Location:Biolabs 1090
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  Sven Heinrich
Course:Life Sciences 1a (Ls1a) - An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology
Course Heads: Professor Daniel Kahne, Professor Rich Losick, Professor Rob Lue, Professor Susan Mango
Office Hours:Wednesday 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm and Friday 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Location:Biolabs 1090
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Personal Statement:

Early on, I was interested in explaining the physical world on a molecular level. When I was in eleventh grade, my high school in Berlin, Germany, made the courageous decision to hand the pedagogical reins for the last three days of the school year to the students. Students were encouraged to offer their fellow students classes of their own design, with the assistance of the faculty. Together with a friend of mine, we designed an introductory course of physical, chemical, and biological evolution: from the Big Bang to Homo sapiens. We were surprised by how many people signed up for the class and were breathlessly teaching our hearts out for three straight days.
This early experience of the joys of teaching has never left me, and I decided to start studying Biochemistry at the Free University in Berlin. Intrigued by the international nature of scientific collaboration and discovery, I also spent time in labs in Israel, the UK, and the US, where I eventually did my graduate work.

When I thought about what research I would like to do for my PhD work, I gave in to my fascination of cellular machines and their molecular mechanism. I joined Tom Rapoport’s lab in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, where I worked on the mechanism of protein integration into the ER membrane. We suggested a unifying, lipid-partitioning model, which can explain in great detail how the protein-conducting channel Sec61 recognizes transmembrane segments, orients them properly with respect to the plane of the membrane and releases them into lipid. Additionally, we determined the architecture of the native ribosome-Sec61 channel complex by electron cryo-microscopy.

After investigating membrane protein integration as part of protein folding, I was attracted to more unconventional protein folding events. For my postdoctoral work I joined Susan Lindquist’s lab at MIT that studies prions. Prion proteins can adopt such an unconventional (amyloid) fold, which can be detrimental to the cell and disease-causing for the organism. It came as a surprise that this same prion fold can also carry out beneficial biological functions in the cell. I examined how a protein involved in learning and memory takes advantage of a regulatable prion switch to create a long-lasting molecular memory.

While I greatly appreciated the intellectual puzzle and detective work that scientific research can be, I always enjoyed communicating my research, which is such an important part of science. During my time as a teaching fellow for Life Sciences 1a (LS1a) and LS1b, I was thrilled to realize how rewarding teaching students is, especially when you can literally hear the “click” in a student’s brain after understanding an important concept.
Together with Aaron Garner, I work as a preceptor for LS1a, which aims to integrate chemistry and biology in a highly accessible, logical, engaging, and almost intuitive way. The teaching philosophy and design of LS1a exemplify to me how basic science should be taught to generate most enthusiasm in our students and fuel their fascination of how the physical world can be explained.
I wish I could have taken LS1a as a student.

Outside of work, I mainly design treasure hunts for my two daughters.

  Jessica Liu
Course:MCB 63 – Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine
Course Heads: Professor Rachelle Gaudet, Senior Lecturer Alain Viel
MCB 64 – The Cell Biology of Human Life in the World
Course Head: Professor Rob Lue
Office Hours:Tuesday 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Location:Northwest Basement, B135.20
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  Laura Magnotti
Advisor: Neurobiology Concentration
Course:MCB 170 - Brain Invaders: Building and Breaking Barriers in the Nervous System
Course Head: Laura Magnotti
Office Hours:By Appointment
Location:Biolabs 1082C
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Personal Statement:

I have an undergraduate degree in Biological Basis of Behavior and History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. I then came to Harvard to complete a PhD in Neurobiology and never left. As a graduate student, I studied gap junctional intercellular communication between oligodendrocytes and astrocytes and its role in the formation and maintenance of myelin. Since then, I've switched gears, and I'm now working with a novel source of adult neural stem cells and trying to understand their differentiation potential and investigate possible therapeutic applications.

My job as preceptor is quite a bit different than most other preceptors, which illustrates the flexibility of the position. Instead of being part of a large lecture course, my primary responsibility is to serve as one of the two academic advisors for undergraduate students who are concentrating in Neurobiology. I think that just illustrates the flexibility of the preceptor position. The way I see it, preceptors have a passion for teaching and try to bring new energy and new ideas to the classroom in whatever capacity they're needed.

One appealing aspect of becoming a preceptor was that the title sounds like a part of the Harry Potter universe. Other than that, I was really excited by the idea of working directly with undergraduates on a daily basis. As a preceptor, the bulk of my time is spent as an academic advisor for the ~230 undergraduate Neurobiology concentrators here at Harvard. It's a really fantastic experience to watch these students as they work towards their goals and accomplish some amazing things along the way. I'm just happy that they let me along for the ride!

I have also designed and taught two courses of my own. The first was a Neurobiology tutorial (Neurobio 95hfp) called Designer Neurons: How Cell Types are Generated in the Nervous System and the Laboratory. The main goal of this course was to teach the students how to read and analyze primary literature. To accomplish this, we explored the current state of knowledge about the role of stem cells in nervous system development as well as how we can use that knowledge in the lab for therapeutic purposes. This year, I will be teaching a new course (MCB 170) called Brain Invaders: Building and Breaking Barriers in the Nervous System. In this course, the students will learn about the defense systems that the nervous system has in place to keep out invaders, ways in which various pathogens have evolved to breach those defenses, and how we can translate those mechanisms to the lab."

Outside of the classroom/lab, you can usually find me at the pottery studio, paddling on a dragon boat, or traveling around the world. I also enjoy outdoor activities (hiking, camping, etc.), reading, baking, and cheese making. The rest of my time is spent trying to survive as a Yankee fan in the middle of Red Sox territory.

  Dominic Mao
Course:MCB 60 - Cellular Biology and Molecular Medicine
Course Heads: Professor Vlad Denic, Professor Alexander F Schier
MCB 68 – Cell Biology Through the Microscope
Course Heads: Professor Ethan Garner, Professor Jeff Lichtman
Office Hours:By Appointment
Location:Northwest Building, B 135.20
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Personal Statement:

During my PhD in the lab of Dennis Grogan at the University of Cincinnati, I studied how a microbial species living in acidic hot springs, like those found in Yellowstone national park, successfully maintains its genetic information in spite of living in conditions that promote DNA damage (optimal growth conditions of pH 3 and 80 degrees Celsius). To make matters more interesting, these organisms are missing important components of some DNA repair systems; failure of these repair systems in humans can lead to disastrous outcomes, like cancer. For my postdoctoral work, I joined the lab of Prof. Matthew Meselson to test the free radical theory of aging by exploiting the extreme resistance of bdelloid rotifers (aquatic, microscopic invertebrates) to ionizing radiation.
I taught undergraduates during the entirety of my five years in graduate school, where I realized that I want to pursue a career in teaching. I am fortunate that both my PhD and postdoc mentors emphasized on teaching as an integral part of my scientific training. In my role as preceptor, I am eager to explore research-based teaching methods, with help from the Bok Center, to constantly improve student learning. I am particularly excited about being the preceptor for MCB 60. I am confident the students will enjoy the course content, in-class discussions and the discovery-based labs. It is definitely a course I would have loved to take and benefited from as an undergraduate.