Blog Posts

From the Frontlines of COVID-19

By Joseph Thomas

I still felt incredibly groggy in the morning when I rolled over to check my email inbox on my phone. I usually joke that my brain isn’t fully “on” until I have my morning coffee and this cold April Saturday was no exception. I was staying in a Philadelphia suburb with my partner, their roommate, and their roommate’s parents. My partner was immunocompromised, and when the virus began to rapidly spread in New York City we made the decision to leave for a safer, more spread out environment. When we left there was fear that New York City would be quarantined, that the rich had been tipped off early to flee in helicopters, and that being trapped inside could be a death sentence for anyone vulnerable. Luckily those all turned out to be rumors, but the situation in the city was still dire. Only a few days prior I had sipped my therapeutic morning coffee and watched a livestream of the USNS Comfort docking in Manhattan, in anticipation of the human suffering that was soon to overflow from emergency rooms citywide.

My eyes finally focused a bit more and I saw the email I had been waiting for. “How quickly can you get back to Brooklyn? I want you to start training on how to run Coronavirus tests on Monday.” A former colleague of mine was organizing graduate students and medical students to help the overwhelmed medical staff of University Hospital Brooklyn. In the previous weeks I had emailed everyone I could think of, from hospitals all the way to the National Guard, trying to find some way I could help. As a scientist I felt so helpless just sitting [...]

May 12th, 2021|

Rolling with the Punches


It was December of 2019. The ground was full of snow, my student home looked like a
holiday store exploded in it, and peculiar news was circulating after a mystery disease infected a
Wuhan, China local who ate a bat; we thought it was probably fake news…
The year was coming to a close, and so was the second last semester of my undergraduate
career. Of course, my mind was tossing and turning between excitement and denial. My four
years at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, shaped me into the person I have become. The
thought of starting a new journey at a new school had already crossed my mind but moving on so
soon felt as if I was cheating on the very place that I was lucky to call home. Not to mention that
my brain was fried after so many early mornings and late nights at the library, drowning myself
in coffee.

Taking a break from academics was a foreign concept that required a great deal of
consideration. I researched all the schools in Canada looking for the perfect program until one
day, my curiosity led me to the Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship master’s program webpage
at NYU. Needless to say, I fell in love with the program in an instant. I started imagining the
possibility of this new life; however, the idea did not go further. While my family was extremely
supportive of my goals, they were not quick to send me off to another country without first
applying to Canadian programs. With my lack of excitement towards what other schools had to
offer, I had decided to hold off on applying to a master’s program and take time away from

In [...]

April 7th, 2021|

Walking my own path

By Andrew Wang

As the saying goes, “If you feel like you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”. Throughout the years I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the company of some very smart people, not just in STEM but also diverse fields like journalism, law, politics. As much as I have tried to abide by that quote, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that doing so is also a constant source of stress. I couldn’t help comparing myself to those more well-spoken, more analytical, more put-together than me, who could seemingly summon knowledge on any topic on demand and held an unshakeable image of confidence. When surrounded by such people, it’s easy for me to feel like we’re not cut from the same cloth, or that I lacked aptitude.

This was the case for me and biomedical engineering. Despite being interested in biomedical science and engineering since a formative event in my childhood (a topic for another time!), while an undergrad at Berkeley I pursued a biochemistry degree because I had doubts that I could match up to the more rigorous requirements of the bioengineering major. While there were many interesting aspects of biochemistry, there were also classes that I didn’t really care for.

As a result, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and joined a robotics club called Pioneers in Engineering (PiE) on campus despite knowing almost nothing about mechanical or electrical engineering. PiE is mostly an engineering club, but it’s one with a social mission – to help local underserved high school students become interested in STEM through robotics mentorship with low barriers to entry.

March 23rd, 2021|

What I Want to be When I Grow Up

By Jacob Kronenberg


When I was little, I wanted to be an inventor. At the age of five, my grandmother told me that I descended from Thomas Edison. I did some investigating and it turns out that my grandmother’s grandfather was friends with Thomas Edison’s father, Samuel Edison. It’s a tenuous connection, but when you’re five, that’s more than enough. When I wasn’t building structures from Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, or Legos, I was sprawled out on my floor drawing solutions to the problems in my life with crayons. I remember dreaming up an automatic sorter to organize my messy room and a device to let me insert straws into Capri-Sun juice pouches without poking through the back side. You see, childhood’s most pressing problems. I was drawn to stories where the brilliant and solitary engineer devises thousand patents. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew what to tell them.


In school, I focused on science extracurriculars. I joined the Science Olympiad team in middle school because I loved the competition and the excitement of a new problem. Plus, it was the hot thing to do in middle school. Believe me. Science is cool. All of those competitions prepared me for the height of my middle school science career, the epic eighth grade sludge test. Our science teacher mixed up a sludge and we had to use our knowledge of chemistry to separate and identify components from the glumpy sludge. While many other kids were frustrated by this impossible task, I reveled in the scientific problem solving challenge.


Outside of school, I was trying to invent too. I’d go over to my best friend’s house and build [...]

March 11th, 2021|

A day in the life of a scientist….

By Alara Tuncer



Beep Beep Beep. I woke up punching my alarm from a vivid dream of me in the fifth-grade science fair—sheepishly presenting about tungsten lamps. This is when I should’ve known that I was going to become a scientist. What kind of 10-year-old tries to build a light bulb with tungsten filaments?


It’s 9:20 am. I rub my eyes and pull the curtain reluctantly—yet—firmly and the light begins to illuminate my room. Hoping the sun does a better job at waking me than my alarm, I yawn. I feel sleepier than usual. It’s unavoidable for me really, to go about my day without dividing the total amount of sleep I’ve got the previous night with a single sleep cycle (roughly one and a half hours) to evaluate if I’ve gotten enough sleep.


I walk into the bathroom and turn on the tap to wash my face. I hear the faucet dripping, while I’m keen on avoiding scientific explanations for this, when I turn to observe the water sneakily escaping between my fingers from the hand I’ve been holding out—I’m caught in the flow of my thoughts just like the water, liquidious. I wonder why? Still, I carry on about my day, walking around on my tippy-toes so that my roommate doesn’t wake up to my creaking footsteps. Still, I hear noises caused by the unwilling force I’m exerting on the floor that is defiantly causing a surge of vibrations to travel along the floor, sharply cutting through the silence of the air.


I brush my hair and my teeth. You would’ve thought that my mind wandering into nothingness—thoughtless and lacking [...]

February 23rd, 2021|

Starting a Postdoc in a Pandemic

By Stanley Chu, PhD

Academia is a nomadic path for many of us who are in the early stages of our career. You spend a few years in one place to get your bachelor’s degree, pick up your life and move to go to grad school, move again for your postdoc (and again for your second postdoc), and then move again for your first job. And each time you move you have to start over, from finding housing to finding new friends. Each time is arguably more difficult as the size of your cohort and colleagues (your natural friends) shrink and you become more specialized and unique in your field.

I began my Postdoc tenure at the Montclare Lab in October of 2019. I had moved to New York City from my home in Atlanta. In the first few months, I did my best to find and furnish an apartment, make friends and explore New York City all on a postdoc budget. I spent my first Christmas in New York City alone, deciding that I could not afford to fly back home for the holidays. Instead, I kept myself busy writing a review paper.


In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 outbreak was a pandemic. On that same day, the Montclare Labs shutdown it’s operations and we began to work from home for the next four months. Since we are mainly a wet lab, we had trouble finding any productivity at home, not to mention that most of us are in tiny New York City apartments that don’t have suitable [...]

February 2nd, 2021|

Why do I write as a scientist?

Alara Tuncer

Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. 

Perhaps I was three, maybe four, sitting in a tub, soaking in bath water. The first memory I have of my existence is one where I am sitting surrounded in bubbly splendor, holding tiny little tubes filled with color. My already large eyes grow in the reflection of the glass bottles as I hold them closer, observing the color and viscosity changes as the contents drip, drop, drip, drop. I remember it so well; the photographic evidence taken by my parents has likely helped. I’ll spare you the sight of seeing baby me—in my birthday suit. Feeling like something between a magician and a cook, it was then that I realized—sitting and mixing little hotel shampoo bottles—that I was going to become a scientist. Now that I’ve lived enough to have strong and informed opinions, I hate people thinking of science as magic. All I want is to write about how science—completely un-magical—can solve all our problems and shape the world we live in for the better.

A few months ago when President Trump was asked about climate change after the California wild-fires he stated comfortably: “It’ll start getting cooler, you just watch.” The corresponding officer responded, “I wish science would agree with you” to which Trump replied, “I don’t think science knows, actually.” The group of experts laughed, tittering nervously. What can you do when the President of the United States—one of the few people in the world who has the power to dramatically alleviate the world’s climate change problems—doesn’t trust science? The urgency of the situation has become crystal clear, even Pope Francis gave a TED talk, calling for action on [...]

January 9th, 2021|

Help! The Tricky Task of Communicating to a Broader Audience

By: Jay Kang

“This is it! This is the moment I have been waiting for!” I thought loudly, as I waited in front of my research poster for the Montclare lab. I was finally ready to present my work at the 52nd MACUB Research Conference. Looking around, I saw students standing in front of their posters, each displaying interesting results, schematics, and graphs. As attendees began to mill about, I was excitedly preparing bits of what I might say to an interested viewer. I got my hopes up as someone seemed to approach, but at the last minute they settled into conversation with a nearby presenter. I tried, but failed to wait patiently in front of my poster.

Finally! After what seemed like half of the session, a woman holding a clipboard approached my poster. Suddenly, I was concerned. My thoughts started running, “How do I explain so much information concisely?” I was comfortable explaining my work to colleagues, but had absolutely no experience conveying my message to someone outside of my specialty. My stressed stream of consciousness continued, “Does this person understand amino acids? Do they know the objective of circular dichroism experiments? Do I have to explain part 1 of the schematic, or should I skip to part 2?”

Wanting to start simple, I began by explaining blindness, how it can be treated using a drug called DENAQ, and the obstacles faced in delivering this drug. Then, I transitioned into the specifics of our research. As I was explaining how we genetically engineer novel protein Q, I noticed that the viewer was still reading the abstract of my poster. She stopped me and asked, “What are rods and cones?”. I was [...]

December 8th, 2020|

The Not So Final Version !

By Priya Katyal

After months and months of performing arduous experiments and data analysis, the time finally comes when you turn a disorganized pile of results to something orderly and beautiful. You sort and group results and put together all your scientific discoveries, piece by piece. And after multiple writing sessions that includes writing, rewriting, revising and writing again (and again!!), you get a full draft of manuscript ready. As you read through the draft, you feel pretty darn proud of yourself. This is it, the time is now to submit the final version to your PI.

Your PI reviews the draft with a critical eye and sends you a collection of edits. As you go through the comments, you start to feel that:

“Oh, how did I miss this?, and that too”, “did I send the wrong version?”

You too realize that there were some key concepts that you thought you explained, only to find that important pieces of explanation were missing; in next round of edits you realize that you forgot to refer a critical article, next you observe examples of redundancy.  As weeks pass by, you come across new literature article that needs to be included in your manuscript. As you are going through multiple rounds of edits, you start creating new names for your doc. The nomenclature includes various adjectives, short phrases and even time of the day as you are continuously editing the draft. A personal favorite of mine was “2018mmdd_manuscript_430am_livingroom_coffee3_HereWeGoAgain”.  After endless rounds of edits, you finally chop off the jargon and replace it with “FINAL” and the manuscript is ready to be sent out to [...]

November 9th, 2020|

Livin’ Like a Protein

Livin’ Like a Protein

Joshua Senior

Would you believe me if I told you that during Career Day in fourth grade, I told my homeroom teacher I wanted to be a protein when I grow up?


Neither would I. That is why I’m saying it now.


Don’t worry, you read that correctly. As a seventeen-year-old, I currently dream of becoming a protein when I grow up (even though I’m ‘grown’ in my sister’s eyes). Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “This kid’s absolutely insane.” My answer? Maybe. See, this isn’t the typical profession you would fill out a job application for, yet this hasn’t inhibited my imagination from chasing the impossible.


Sadly, my career aspirations of becoming a fully-functional protein don’t involve physically interacting with DNA histones or translocating across numerous cellular membranes. In fact, my fascination with becoming this macromolecular complex rests not in the specific operations of the protein molecule, but simply in its multifaceted nature.


Similar to proteins, my intellectual building blocks significantly contribute to my profound attachment to science. Since the age of eight, I’ve always been captivated by science. It wasn’t the vibrant school science fairs or the endless Bill Nye episodes in science class that caught my interest. No, my love for science came in the form of storytelling. Equipped with her daily experiences in the OR, my mother’s “bedtime tales” were engaging recounts of hospital cases she handled. Her medical sagas not only intrigued my sprouting scientific imagination, but her soothing voice always put me fast asleep.


As I grew older, this budding curiosity for science soon flourished, folding like proteins into an extensive love for Biology. During high school, I have [...]

September 14th, 2020|