15 Alumni Celebrated as Changemakers in Biomedical Sciences

Generations of alums from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences are being recognized for their contributions in areas such as genetics and molecular microbiology

Joy, gratitude, and fulfillment may not be the first words that come to mind when describing a career in biomedical sciences. But they are common threads connecting 15 outstanding alumni of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) who were nominated and selected for recognition by GSBS alumni, faculty, and students.

“This has been a community-driven initiative, both in how the nominations were put forth and the makeup of the selection committee that had the unenviable task of considering the most notable of the submissions,” said GSBS Dean Daniel Jay. “This initiative was organized to honor our own and share their accomplishments.”

The selection committee, led by chair Jonathan Schimmel, GBS00, who is also a member of the GSBS Board of Advisors, set out to create a “family photo” of sorts of GSBS alumni, including all generations of graduates.

In June, Jay hosted a virtual event for the honorees, which included a video introduction to the alumni’s careers and accomplishments as well as a Q&A session and reflection on Tufts’ impact in their professional development.

Many of the alumni honored joined the event and participated in the Q&A, including New England Journal of Medicine Editor-in-Chief Eric Rubin, M90, GBS90.

When asked what’s brought him the most joy in his career, Rubin mentioned the rewarding relationship with trainees he’s supervised who have become friends and almost family, and the general joy his career has brought him.

“I think science is really fun,” Rubin shared. “I don't think there are that many jobs where you go in every morning because you really want to be there instead of going in to earn a paycheck.”

Rubin is also an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, specializing in infectious disease, and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the department of immunology and infectious disease.

Honoree Robert Braun, GBS85, Janeway Distinguished Chair and professor of mammalian genetics at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, echoed Rubin’s sentiments.

“I knew it would be interesting, but I didn't realize it would be so much fun,” Braun said. “I love it, doing science, meeting new people, mentoring students and postdocs – it’s been a wonderful 40 years.”

Lynn L. Silver, GBS75, found her scientific career joyful, adding that she was “always happy to get into the lab and look at [her] plates, on the weekends or whenever.” She’s a microbiologist and leading expert in the field of antibiotics, where she has contributed to the discovery of new antibacterials to help overcome antibiotic resistance and toxicity issues.

An image of a scientist working with a sample in a lab.
Photo: Shutterstock

Explore GSBS Alumni Achievements

Visit the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences' website to read about the accomplishments of the 15 honorees.

Encouraging Growth in the Sciences

Like Silver, Jennifer Nwankwo, GBS16, pursued a career in industry.

When she arrived at Tufts, Nwankwo knew the path she planned to take, but she acknowledged that other people in the Black community may not know what opportunities they may have in the field of research.

“I think research is not something we aspire to in the African American community because we don’t know enough about it,” Nwankwo said. “If we’re interested in science, people tell us to go to medical school. They don’t say, ‘go be a scientific researcher,’ or ‘go study immunology.’”

Nwankwo is the founder and CEO of 1910 Genetics, and she served on the executive committee for the Tufts Biomedical Business Club (now known as the Tufts Biotech Group) while pursuing her degree in pharmacology and experimental therapeutics.

Nwankwo believes that if more African Americans go into scientific research fields to set the path through publishing research and finding success, word will spread about these opportunities.

In his role at Roxbury Community College, a historically Black community college, associate vice president of work force development Hillel Sims, GBS08, educates non-traditional students, many of whom are supporting families or working full-time jobs, on their potential pathways into science and other fields.

Sims helps students secure internships to get experience in the field and since pay is a factor for many students, he leverages grants to help ensure they can complete the internship, no matter their economic status.

“I’ve been working here seven years now and it took a while for me to understand everything that our students go through,” Sims said of the non-traditional students at RCC. “We’ve got to get them into roles in science, so I use every tool in my toolbox.”

A Shared Love of Science

Some elements of the alums’ toolboxes were honed as Tufts students, but others were learned and refined in the field. Braun noted that his love of interacting with students, which fell outside of his formal scientific training, became critical to his career.

“The idea that you are training in an environment with people and being a good and decent human being is not something that we train toward necessarily, except by example, but it's such a critical thing,” Braun said. 

“My fondest memories of sciencethere's the occasional discoverybut it's the day-to-day dealing with people, bouncing ideas off of them, being excited about experiments, or being supported when it doesn't work,” Braun remembered. “All of those things, to me, really made the difference.”

Jay agreed with Braun that the joy of human contact while working in the extended family of a lab is something all GSBS graduates can appreciate.

“This has been a wonderful evening,” Jay said. “It’s been a joy for me to see some old friends, meet some new ones, and see the generations of you, and to celebrate your successes. I’d just like to say how very, very proud I am, and GSBS is, of your accomplishments and the fact that you pay it forward.”

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