In the fall of 2021, Caroline Brown, Zheng Wei, and Iman Mousavi took on the task of coordinating the West Campus Student and Postdoc Committee during a global pandemic. Unable to gather in person, they hosted successful virtual alumni and technical talks – and a night at the movies – for their lab mates across the campus. With spring around the corner, we spoke to two of the scholars as they make plans to bring the community together at West Campus this year.
Interviewer: Let’s start with what you do at West Campus. Tell us about your research!
[Caroline Brown] “I’m in my third year as a graduate student in the lab of Kallol Gupta in the Nanobiology Institute, and my work focusses on membrane proteins and their hierarchical organization. I’m working to develop detergent-free methods for membrane-protein isolation. The goal is to extract and stabilize proteins in as close to their native environment as possible.”
[Zheng Wei] “As a graduate student in the Institute of Biomolecular Design and Discovery (Crawford Lab), I’m interested in the function of small molecules in immune cells. We know some enzymes are associated with immune disease, but their functions are not well established. My work seeks to reveal the function of these molecules to realize their potential in treating certain immune diseases.”
“I’ve really missed the social interaction we usually enjoy on campus, and that was a big reason why I wanted to join this committee and help us reconnect again as a community”
What has it been like on West Campus in recent years?
[Zheng] “My time is split between the Med School and West Campus. I drive between the labs and I’ve become used to gauging the best times to avoid traffic jams! Actually, using virtual platforms during the pandemic has added a level of efficiency between the campuses. Too many back-to-back virtual meetings are tiring though, and I hope we can help bring more in person events to West Campus this year.”
[Caroline] “It’s been an interesting couple of years! I started my PhD in 2019, so I only had one semester of ‘real life yale’ then the rest of my grad student career has been social distanced and in masks. Overall, I’ve had a mostly a positive experience, but I’ve really missed the social interaction we usually enjoy on campus, and that was a big reason why I wanted to join this committee and help us reconnect again as a community. Meetings have become more accessible and too numerous with virtual platforms but having a hybrid option going forward could be helpful in limiting the distance between West Campus and other parts of Yale. If there’s an interesting talk on science hill that is less easy to get to in person, having a virtual option would be great.”
Spring is such a great time of year on campus. What kind of events can we look for from the Committee this year?
[Caroline] “Well I’m hoping for one more snowstorm so we can go sledding! Coming to Yale from Western Gorgia, where we only get a dusting, last year’s heavy snow was the first real snow I’d seen! It was the first time I’d tried sledding and I loved it!”
[Zheng] “I’m used to heavy snow where I’m from in Northwest China. We have a similar climate to New England – lots of snow and few evergreen plants!”
[Caroline] “This year I really want to bring back happy hours. Some of the best times on campus are the informal events where we can just chill out and meet people over drinks and snacks. As soon as it’s warm enough to get onto the terrace we’re going to jump on it!”
[Zheng] “Our movie event was fun so we should do that again in person in the Conference Center. I’m also thinking about outings locally, or to East Rock or Light House Point parks in New Haven.”
And when you have free time outside of the lab or aren’t busy organizing the community at West Campus?
“I grow Roses and Orchids here in the lab with a few other colleagues. They take up little time and are such a calming influence”
[Caroline] “Being in the lab all day, I try to spend as much time outside as possible. My dog is only a year old and has so much energy, so we take hikes and jog at Silver Sands beach in Milford. His name’s Fenn, after John Fenn [the American professor of analytical chemistry was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2002 for work in mass spectrometry.] I got the dog as a reward for passing my qualifying exams, and coming from a mass spec lab, it was only right he had a related name!”
[Zheng] “I get a lot of peace from horticulture. I grow Roses and Orchids here in the lab with a few other colleagues. They take up little time and are such a calming influence. Between us we have around 50 plants in the lab. We’re proud of our collection on the third floor of MIC!”
You can meet Caroline, Zheng, and Iman over a free lunch at the next meeting of the YWC Student & Postdoc Committee, April 5th, 12-1pm in Event Room A. Contact any of the scholars to get involved or to suggest ideas to the Committee.
Interview by Jon Atherton