Reflections from CAGPM's T32 Graduate Marie Mooney, PhD

Coming to Duke as a post-doc was a leap of faith. I love science and have a passion for using it to benefit children, but I also felt adrift and mildly discouraged after a series of short positions with numerous labs. I had plans to leave academic science but couldn’t resist the work being done at Duke. The lab I joined collaborates with clinicians to find the causes for rare genetic disorders and then makes genetically engineered zebrafish to model the patient’s disease for drug discovery. When I got to Duke, my new mentor, Nico Katsanis, encouraged me to enter the traineeship immediately. It was an excellent fit. My first year at Duke had me completely energized, and the Genomic Medicine training program gave me ample opportunities both internally and on a national stage to share my work and make new scientific connections with other passionate scientists. Now that my traineeship has ended, I am still benefiting from those connections, and I’m looking forward to giving a virtual talk this summer at another university. 

In the second year of the program, I saw some extraordinary challenges, and the support offered enabled my continuing success. Those challenges included a tragic, fatal gas explosion that brought our research endeavors to a halt. At the same time, my home lab was preparing to leave Duke and expand the program in Chicago at the Lurie Children’s Hospital. Then, the pandemic hit. The strength of the work I’ve completed despite the pile of challenging situations in my second year is owed in no small part to the support of the program, which extends beyond the funding to the personal relationships that kept me on track. Program directors Susanne Haga and Geoff Ginsburg helped me set alternative plans and gave both optimistic and critical feedback on charting my path forward. One of my committee members, Greg Wray, gave me space in his lab to work while I was at Duke, and Nico supported my travel to Chicago and research in both places so that I could complete the program to the best of my ability. I found that it certainly takes a village to train a postdoc, and I could not have asked for a better one!

As I leave the program, I am emboldened to be aggressive in my pursuit to lead my own laboratory. In the short term, I have transferred to Chicago full time and will spend an additional year to bring a couple delayed projects to completion; I’m excited to follow their mission and see what we can do to “Advance Children’s Health, One Genome at a Time.” I feel ready to look for a faculty position soon, knowing my village will be there to cheer me on.