Yarden Katz on how intellectual property affect the scientific questions we pursue

Do we need a Bernie Sanders or AOC for academia? We tackle this question with Yarden Katz, a departmental fellow in Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, who has written about how the politics and culture of academia influence the scientific questions we pursue. We discuss how intellectual property laws reshaped university and scientific priorities, whether this incentive structure has in fact led to more innovation, and what the barriers are to changing a system that no one is really satisfied with.

The Katz and Matter paper that we reference in our chat can found here, and you can learn more about Yarden at yarden.github.io.

Track art by the always talented Caroline Hu.

David Altshuler, CSO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, on how human genetics informs drug discovery

Genetics field trip! In this episode we hopped in Jenny’s car and headed to Vertex Pharmaceuticals where we spoke with Chief Scientific Officer, David Altschuler. Previously, as a core member of the Broad Institute, David’s academic research focused on using human population genetics to identify therapeutic targets for complex diseases. In our conversation, David tells us about his transition into industry and how his former research strategy now informs his scientific vision at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Music that slaps by Chris Link of Moon Beach . Track artwork that dazzles by Carline Hu.

Carrie Blout on discovering what’s in your genome

What would happen if everyone got their genome sequenced? This question is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Instead, it is a research question that Senior Genetic Counselor Carrie Blout and her colleagues at the Genomes2People initiative at Brigham and Women’s hospital are trying to answer. We discuss the medical, psychological, and economic impact of whole genome sequencing, the rollout of a new preventative genomics clinic at Brigham and Women’s, and the future of genomic medicine.

Theme music by Chris Link of Moon Beach. Track art by Caroline Hu.

Nyssa Boardman, PsyD, on why PhDs are hard

“PhDs are hard”. We all heard this when we were deciding to apply to PhD programs, but even after completing one it is difficult to articulate why a PhD is difficult. In this episode we tackle this question with Nyssa Boardman, a clinical psychologist who works with graduate students at Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services. In our interview we discuss the “five-year itch”, becoming your work, how to spot a breakdown, and what Nyssa would say if she had all PhD advisors in a room.

If you have noticed persistent changes in your sleep, eating, mood, or energy level — or even if you are just feeling overwhelmed — make an appointment with your institution’s mental health center. If you or someone you know has had thoughts of harming themselves or suicide, contact a medical professional or crisis hotline such as 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Music by Chris Elliott Link. Track art by Caroline Hu.

Justin Chen on PhD burnout

Ever since we read Justin Chen’s article in STAT news about his experience as a PhD student at MIT, we knew we needed to interview him. The article, titled “Coming to terms with six years in science: obsession, isolation, and moments of wonder” poignantly describes the burnout and mental health issues which are all too common amongst PhD students. During our interview we learn more of the backstory; what prompted him to write the article, how it was received, and what he is up to now that he’s finished with his PhD.

Music by Chris Elliott Link. Track art by Caroline Hu, titled “Loss of function”.

Andy Lane on why men get some cancers more often than women

Did you know that men get certain types of cancer more frequently than women? This was thought to be due to differences in exposure to carcinogens like cigarettes. However, new research by Dr. Andrew Lane at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston provides evidence for a new theory: women are protected from cancer due to extra copies of cancer-preventing genes on the X chromosome.

You can find the publication we discuss here: https://www.nature.com/articles/ng.3726.

Music by Chris Elliott Link. Track image by Jenny Graves, La Trobe University.