Feb. 21, 2019 — When Bayli DiVita Dean visits the office of her research mentor, Catherine Flores, Ph.D., to study hematopoietic stem cells and their implications for new immunotherapies for cancer patients, the two women sometimes finish each other’s sentences in rapid-fire conversations. Other times, they sit in quiet concentration, working toward a solution. Though the work is serious, laughs and smiles erupt as the two women reach their “a-ha” moments.
As a student in the UF graduate program in biomedical sciences who conducts challenging immunology and microbiology research, Dean recognizes the value of her relationship with her mentor.
“I’ve been working with Catherine since last January, but it feels like it’s been longer,” she says of her research with Flores, an assistant professor in the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery. “She’s amazing at communicating science to the public. It’s very hard to do, and I’m working my way toward that goal. She also explains things to me in ways I understand as a visual learner. And she’s in the lab with me, which is very rare. She’s still passionate about picking up the pipette alongside me.”
Flores, who serves as the principal investigator of the hematopoietic stem cell engineering laboratory within the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program, says she’s passionate about educating the next generation of scientists—especially young women entering a male-dominated field like neurosurgery.
“Women have a lot to contribute and shouldn’t have to choose between a family and a profession,” she says. “I’m trying to engender a work-life balance. In graduate school, you learn to manage personal and professional pressures. It’s a pivotal time for these young people, and I’m here to help.”
Both Dean and Flores have long looked forward to Tuesday evening’s 2019 UF College of Medicine Research Poster Session in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, where Dean presented her poster, “The impact of brain tumors on hematopoietic derived cells,” alongside 531 other posters, 300 of which were created by students. 1,270 UF College of Medicine leadership, faculty, staff members, family members and friends attended the event.
Dean says she enjoys learning about others’ research during the annual session.
“Immunotherapy has exploded over the last few years, and it’s exciting to see how everyone at UF is adopting it,” she says. “I get new ideas from studying others’ work. Sometimes, other researchers have great questions for me that lead to great experiments.”
Flores says the poster session provides an opportunity for cross-discipline inspiration and possibilities for collaboration.
“With research, you’re literally trapped in a room most of the time; Being reminded of what others are doing is very important,” she says.
UF College of Medicine interim dean Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., likens the annual research poster session to a family gathering.
“This annual opportunity for all of us to be together in a single room to share our knowledge, celebrate our latest research discoveries and find new collaborations has become part of the College of Medicine’s culture,” he says. “This year’s event hosted 532 posters that highlight the exciting momentum of our research mission.”
This year’s session utilized the CrowdCompass mobile app, which helped attendees find their way among the endless rows of posters. This wayfinding technology mirrors the changing landscape of modern research, says Stephen P. Sugrue, Ph.D., acting associate vice president for research at UF Health and senior associate dean for research affairs at the UF College of Medicine.
“Gone is the small cottage industry lab working in isolation,” he says. “It has been replaced by new technologies and innovative collaborative relationships that help us find our way across more ground faster and more efficiently, allowing us to become more interdisciplinary and exert new leverage on bigger and more complex questions.”