Meet the Postdocs

Samad Jahandideh, Ph.D.


Samad Jahandideh, Ph.D.

This interview with La Jolla postdoctoral associate Samad Jahandideh, Ph.D., is the third installment in our “Meet our Postdocs” Beaker series. Samad works in the laboratory of Adam Godzik, Ph.D., which focuses on biological systems and their evolution.

Samad, tell us about your background. Where are you from and what did you do before you joined Sanford-Burnham?
I was born in a small city, Darab, in southern Iran; a city whose civilization goes back thousands of years. My academic background consists of an undergraduate degree in Cell and Molecular Biology, followed by an M.S. and Ph.D. in Biophysics, all from universities in Iran. After completing my Ph.D., I decided to apply for a postdoc position in the United States to take a step closer toward what my heart wanted. My first position in the U.S., before joining Sanford-Burnham, was an 18-month postdoc job in the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Why did you decide to become a postdoc at Sanford-Burnham? And why did you pick the lab you’re currently in?
After my first postdoc position, I decided to do my second postdoc training as part of a leading group that would provide me the opportunity to follow and improve my previous line of research. I went through many interviews and finally decided to move to the Godzik lab at Sanford-Burnham, which is pioneering the prediction of crystallizability of protein sequences. Another consideration was – I love southern California, with all the sunshine and blue sky almost all year long.

Tell us about your research. What do you currently work on?
My current work is focused on developing machine-learning-based methods to show the power of these techniques in overcoming complex biological problems. For example, during the last year I updated the XtalPred server, a widely used algorithm for sequence-based prediction of crystalliability of protein sequences, by using machine-learning methods. This led to an almost twofold improvement in the prediction of crystallization success over the original algorithm. It is expected to lower the cost of protein-structure determination, facilitate the testing of drugs, and advance basic observations into clinical applications. Recently, these results were highlighted by PSI/Nature Structural Biology Knowledgebase.

Which part of your work do you like best, which part do you like least?
I don’t like fixed working hours. As a postdoc at Sanford-Burnham I like having flexible working hours. On the other hand, I like my bioinformatics projects at the Institute because the software that is developed as part of these projects will facilitate biomedical science.

Twenty years from now, where do you see yourself?
My long-term career goal is to become a successful academician and to develop a strong research program and curriculum in computational biology dedicated to the development of novel machine-learning algorithms to solve complex biological problems. It is difficult to predict the future but for sure I will stay in academia.

Tell us something about the Samad outside of Sanford-Burnham? What are your hobbies?
Outside of Sanford-Burnham, I am passionate about visual arts, e.g. designing and making musical instruments, sculptures, and even origami. A long time ago I started to learn how to make violins in my father’s workshop. I remember that a violin I made for a musician had a warm sound and the owner was very happy and commented on it when I met him a few years later.

What’s your favorite music and book?
The Tale of Sinuhe is my favorite book. Although there is an ongoing debate among Egyptologists whether it is an actual story or a work of fiction, it includes interesting and diverse aspects of ancient Egyptian society from science to culture. My favorite music is classical music, especially solo and concerto for the violin and guitar. I love expressive classical pieces by Niccolò Paganini for solo violin.

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
The best advice I ever got was to keep trying after you fail. I think grit contributes much more to success than IQ.

Juan Pablo Palavicini, Ph.D.


Juan Pablo Palavicini, Ph.D.

Juan Pablo works in the laboratory of Xianlin Han, Ph.D., which focuses on altered lipid metabolism, trafficking and homeostasis under patho(physio)logical conditions.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – where are you from and why did you move to Orlando?
I was born in Costa Rica into a fantastic and wonderful family, where I received tons of love and great values. Both of my parents are doctors, my dad Carlos is an orthopedic surgeon, and my mom Giselle is a retired rehabilitation physiatrist. They gave me, as well as my older brother and my younger sister, all the tools we needed to follow our dreams. At the end of my Ph.D., I got married to a gorgeous Costa Rican girl, Cinthia, who never thought about leaving our beautiful country. Therefore, I had to find a fantastic place she couldn’t resist, and Orlando was the answer.

What made you come to Sanford-Burnham?
I read about Orlando’s desire to build a strong bioscience hub in an airline magazine and Sanford-Burnham was mentioned in the article, too. The Institute was depicted as one of the most successful and renowned nonprofit research organizations in the U.S. and the world. Later, after searching for more information on the Web, I found the Lake Nona Medical City website, and I was impressed by the plans and vision. A few months later, I had the opportunity to visit the Medical City during a family visit to Orlando. I really liked it, and I searched for a research group that worked on Alzheimer’s disease. My wife couldn’t resist the idea of living next to Orlando’s top-class attractions and we decided to become part of the Sanford-Burnham family.

Tell us about your research. What is it that you do all day in the lab?
I am a neuroscientist and I study the molecular intricacies that occur inside the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. I work with animal models, mice in particular that have been genetically modified to develop the pathological features characteristic of this common form of dementia. We use a variety of biochemical, molecular biology, and histological approaches to better understand which molecules are affected by this devastating disease. Our laboratory has a particular focus on lipids, which are very abundant in brain tissue. Interestingly, we have found one specific lipid type that is specifically and extensively decreased during Alzheimer’s pathogenesis. In addition, I am also studying potential molecular links that could explain why diabetes is a high-risk factor for developing dementia later in life.

Why did you pick this particular research area?
I have been absolutely astonished by the vast and extremely complex world inside a cell ever since I started learning about them in school. The more I learned about this magnificent and elaborate world, the more I wanted to find out about it. The brain is the most complex and amazing system in the universe and I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life studying it. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia; studying it offers me the opportunity to learn more about the brain and, at the same time, generate new knowledge that will hopefully help Alzheimer’s patients in the future.

Do you have any advice for postdocs who would like to apply for a position at Sanford-Burnham?
I would definitively encourage any graduate student or current postdoc to apply for a position at Sanford-Burnham. We have a tremendous group of scientists who are highly collaborative and successful. In addition, we have a wonderful Office of Training & Academic Services, which offers valuable courses and workshops to enrich our postdoctoral experience. I also encourage potential postdocs to make sure they really love and enjoy doing science before starting a postdoctoral position, because if you don’t, then you shouldn’t.

What do you do in your free time? Any exciting hobbies or interests?
I have always loved sports. When I was in school I used to bowl. I took it seriously and after a lot of practice, I became Costa Rican youth champion. Later, when I went to college, I decided I wanted to do something more cardio, so I tried boxing classes. I loved it and spent a couple of years training every other day until my coach said I was ready to compete at an amateur level. A little while after my first boxing match, which I won by technical KO, I left Costa Rica and, luckily for my brain, I decided to switch sports again, this time I jumped into soccer. During my time as a Ph.D. student at the University of Puerto Rico, I joined the second-division Guaynabo City soccer team. After my first season there as a goalie, my coach recommended me for the first-division team, where I started training every day shortly after graduating. I decided to leave Puerto Rico to pursue my postdoctoral research in Florida, where I switched sports again. This time, my teammates are my wife and our 2-year-old daughter Mia, and we do Disney park “racewalking!”

Carlos Zgheib, Ph.D.


Carlos Zgheib, Ph.D.

Carlos is a postdoctoral fellow at Sanford-Burnham’s Lake Nona campus, but Sanford-Burnham alone was not enough for him – he also works at Nemours Children’s Hospital and the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine. So of the five current organizations based in Medical City, Carlos works for three.

Carlos, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a postdoctoral fellow at Nemours Children’s Hospital and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona. I am also an instructor at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine. I received my Ph.D. in medical pharmacology from The University of Mississippi Medical Center.

When was the first time you heard about Lake Nona’s Medical City?
After receiving my Ph.D., I started looking for a postdoc position. I was offered several positions at different institutions including Nemours Children’s Hospital, which opened in October 2012 as part of Medical City here in Orlando. During the interview process, I learned that Nemours is located in Medical City. I looked it up and was fascinated by the concept and the institutions that are part of it. - See more at: http://beaker.sanfordburnham.org/2014/03/meet-our-postdocs-carlos-zgheib/#sthash.yWGCw0bH.dpuf

You work for three Medical City organizations – Sanford-Burnham, Nemours Children’s Hospital, and the University of Central Florida. How did that happen?f
I work for Nemours Children’s Hospital and we chose Sanford-Burnham as a location for our lab because the Institute is a great place to work. You can find anything you need to run any test or analysis, and the amount of scientific and administrative support that we get is amazing.

After starting to work with Nemours, I got appointed as an instructor in medical education at the College of Medicine at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I am also part of the UCF Research Network Initiative and I mentor and train several students from UCF that are interested in doing a research internship.

What does collaboration mean for your research?
Collaboration is important for the advancement of any field and especially for biomedical research. Collaboration enables a team or group to tackle problems efficiently once they link up with other research groups. Collaboration is a recursive process, one that develops in stages. It enables people to share skills and knowledge, which then strengthen a group.

Everyone has a different perspective on things, which can bring new ideas to a project. Oftentimes we are able to view situations from many angles, but not all of them. When you collaborate with other people, they see the angles that you don’t. This makes for more efficient and successful research.

Medical City at Lake Nona is the perfect place for collaboration because you have Sanford-Burnham, Nemours, UCF, the University of Florida, and the VA Medical Center. With all these institutions, you can link basic science and clinical research.

Can you tell us about your work here? Why is it beneficial to work at these three organizations? How does your research benefit from it?
My research is focused primarily on the field of wound healing, with emphasis on elucidating the mechanisms involved in the regenerative response to injury in the fetus, the role of stem cells in tissue repair, and the correction of abnormal healing in adults.

Our team has contributed significantly to the understanding of regenerative healing in the skin and tendon, and has recently developed and published the first report of mammalian cardiac regeneration in a large animal model following in utero myocardial infarction.

We are developing novel treatment paradigms to promote healing and tissue regeneration in multiple tissues by modulating the inflammatory response, the composition of the extracellular matrix, and the progenitor-cell content. The goal of this regenerative approach is to restore normal tissue architecture and function and prevent the complications of reparative healing or scar formation.

In our work we collaborate with Sanford-Burnham to screen thousands of molecules and chemical compounds that could become potential treatment for diabetic skin-wound impairment. We also collaborate with The NanoScience Technology Center at UCF to develop and use nanoparticles as a therapy by itself and as a delivery vehicle for our treatments.

Tell us about the Sanford-Burnham Science Network, why you became involved, and why do you think it’s important?
I first got involved with the Sanford-Burnham Science Network (SBSN) last year as the organizer and moderator of the “Jobs in Industry” session at the first career symposium at Medical City. This symposium was organized by the SBSN and hosted by Sanford-Burnham.

In 2013 I became the president of the SBSN. The SBSN is the association of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students at Sanford-Burnham. It is very important because we host social and scientific events throughout the year, and these events bring young researchers and achieved scientists from Sanford-Burnham and other institutes together and promote social and scientific networking.

Some of the events that we do include the annual SBSN Poster Symposium, scientist seminars, career-development workshops and seminars, travel awards, Institute happy hours and vendor shows, off-site social events and trips, and much more.

If any of our readers are currently looking for postdoc positions, what advice do you have for them?
We all know that nowadays the job market is very competitive, not only in science. When you are looking for a postdoc position, the most important thing in my opinion is that you look for a research that excites and motivates you. Second, try to find a position at institutions that greatly invest in biomedical research and have a great reputation and achievements in research, like Sanford-Burnham and Nemours. And, finally, keep up your collaborations and maintain your network. For sure you need to have a degree of independence, but networking and collaborations open new doors for you, help you maintain your reputation as a researcher, and may secure your next position.

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