What is your current career stage? With which institutions and departments are you affiliated, and what position(s) do you hold?
I am currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. I also hold a secondary appointment in the Department of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology.
Who were/are your past scientific mentors?
I’ve been lucky to have had many terrific mentors, too many to list. For my formal training, Kevin Costa introduced me to cardiac tissue engineering in his lab when I was an undergraduate at Columbia. I then worked with Nancy Pleshko at HSS studying a mouse model of osteogenesis imperfecta. It was such a wonderful experience that I decided to go to graduate school where I completed my PhD with Rob Mauck at UPenn (cartilage tissue engineering), followed by a postdoc with Ronen Schweitzer at Shriners Hospital for Children (tendon development). I realize I jumped around quite a bit in different tissues but I’ve always chosen mentors first and projects second.
Can you give us a brief overview of your research?
My research focuses on healing and regeneration of fibrous connective tissues such as tendon and the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc. We established models of regenerative healing in neonatal mice and are now trying to understand the determinants underlying regenerative vs scar-mediated healing – for example, distinctive signaling pathways, intrinsic differences in cells, or the cell microenvironment. Recently, we’ve become very excited about differences in the immune response between neonates and adults and how that might impact regeneration. We are also interested in deriving tendon and fibrocartilage cells from pluripotent sources (ESCS, iPSCs).
How did you get involved in orthopaedic research?
After college I worked for two years with Nancy Pleshko at HSS. She was really the one who introduced me to orthopaedic research and I attended my first ORS when I was in her lab. It was also very normalizing to see and interact with several fantastic women PIs who were around at the time (Nancy, Cathy Raggio, Adele Boskey, Marjolein van der Meulen) – I think it unconsciously made academic science more accessible and feasible for me as a career.
How has the ORS supported you?
As I tell my own students, the ORS annual meeting is a great meeting for trainees. I had the opportunity to present my work frequently as a graduate student and establish my network. One of the most rewarding aspects is seeing my peers advance in their own careers and thriving as independent researchers now. I also love that friends who transitioned to industry careers are still engaged with the ORS. Now that I am more established, I am trying to give back to the ORS and foster that same supportive environment for new trainees entering the field.
What is your favorite thing about the ORS?
The people. The society is made up of very dedicated and generous people who are highly committed to scientific excellence but also to the scientific community. I’ve been impressed at all the ways the ORS have evolved over the last 15 years.
Why do you believe diversity and inclusion is important?
It’s critical to have different perspectives at the table. Scientific thinking is all about testing assumptions and having more viewpoints will lead to better science. Representation is also so important for retention – I know it made a huge impact for me to see women in leadership roles for example. We have to do better to make sure ALL voices have a seat and are heard.
What are your career goals?
I hope to be able to continue doing what I love! My research is pretty basic so I would also love to see something directly translatable come out of these studies.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your scientific career? (socially, professionally, culturally, scientifically, etc.)
The pandemic probably posed the biggest challenge to date. My twins were 18 months at the start of it and trying to juggle childcare with work with safety has been overwhelming. I think many parents with young children or other caregiving responsibilities can relate. At least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but the struggle continues.
Any personal interests or hobbies you would like to share?
Reading is my main outlet for relaxation. I tend to want to re-read old favorites over and over again so have to push myself to read new books. If anyone is looking for a fun book I recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora.
What personal advice would you give to new investigators starting out in the field?
Try not to compare yourself to others. There are many paths to success and your path will look different from anyone else’s. There are also many different definitions of success so make sure you are not striving toward someone else’s idea of success.