April 3, 2019 — The second annual Distinguished Lecture Series, organized by four students in the UF Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, recently welcomed two prominent scientists to UF Health: Peter Walter, Ph.D., and Bruce Alberts, Ph.D., both from the University of California San Francisco.
John Calise, a fourth-year National Science Foundation graduate research fellow in the molecular cell biology concentration, said he and his fellow committee members aim to build the prestige of both their graduate program and the university as whole by introducing internationally renowned scientists to campus.
“Reputation builds through word of mouth from bringing in notable speakers. If a speaker comes to campus and has great interactions with students, they will go back and tell their colleagues, and word will spread that UF is a great place to be for biomedical sciences,” Calise said.
Nora Awadallah, a second-year Ph.D. student in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics, said she hopes students who attend the series leave feeling inspired by interacting with notable scientists.
“Getting a Ph.D. is not an easy task, but we think that interacting with people who have made such big names for themselves and who are truly trying to change the world will spark some motivation and encouragement,” Awadallah said.
Peter Walter, Ph.D., a distinguished professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, won the 2014 Lasker Award, which is known as the American Nobel Prize. His lab studies how cells control the quality of their proteins and organelles, understanding how these processes lead to or prevent the progression of disease. Walter spoke to an audience of about 150 UF College of Medicine students, faculty members and leadership on March 28. His talk, “From Protein Folding to Cognition: The Serendipitous Path of Discovery,” outlined the often surprising route his research has taken him down over the past few decades.
“What I love the most about science is that the path you go down is not linear,” Walter said. “Occasionally, we make discoveries. These discoveries can put us into fields where we are not experts. Now, we have a choice: we can hand it off to the experts, or we can learn something new.”
After his talk, a reception in the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building offered opportunities for Walter to speak with students individually about topics ranging from his research process to what keeps him inspired.
“Of all the things I do, mentoring young people is probably the most important and most rewarding,” he said. “That’s why I am here today with the next generation. It’s the people we mentor who carry on the mission and enthusiasm for the work.”
Bruce Alberts, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2014. He previously served as the president of the National Academy of Sciences and the editor-in-chief of Science magazine. His talk on April 2, “The Problems and Challenges in Biomedical Sciences: Keeping Science Healthy,” outlined both his personal history and the lessons he’s learned from four decades of writing cell biology textbooks.
“The energy of young students is infectious,” Alberts said before his talk began. “I’m impressed at how carefully organized this visit has been. There was no stone left unturned. These graduate students could be very successful deans one day.”
Casey Keuthan, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the genetics concentration, has organized the series since its inception in 2018. She said its growth is exciting, and she’s grateful for the support of her faculty mentors at the UF Graduate Program in Biomedical Science.
“I don’t think any of us students expected this lecture series to get as big as it did last year, and this year is even bigger and better,” she said. “The UF Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences has supported us the whole way.”