In This Section

The Do’s and Don’ts for Graduate and Professional Students in Cancer Research

Friday, April 8, 1 – 2:30 p.m. CST 

Room 260-262, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Organized as a collaborative effort between the Associate Member Council (AMC), Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR) Council, Women in Cancer Research (WICR) Council, and the AACR Science Education and Career Advancement Committee, this session will address important strategies and skills that undergraduate and graduate students, medical students and residents, and clinical and postdoctoral fellows need to have a successful career in cancer research. This session is being held in recognition of Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week (April 4-8, 2022).

Did you participate in this Professional Advancement Session during the AACR Annual Meeting? If so, don’t forget to complete the session evaluation and share your feedback with us! Your input will help us shape additional professional development-related sessions and programming. Share your feedback!


Session Co-Chairs: 

Augusto C. Ochoa, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, New Orleans, Louisiana

Kathleen W. Scotto, PhD, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey

Please contact us at [email protected] with any questions.

2022 Participating Senior Scientists

Heather K. Beasley, PhD, MS

Heather K. Beasley, PhD, MS

Postdoctoral Scholar, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

Dr. Heather Beasley believes in the merger of scientific knowledge with adaptive communication for all. Dr. Beasley earned a Bachelor of Science from Auburn University, a Master of Science from Alabama A&M University. Most recently, she earned a PhD in biomedical sciences from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. She has been an active member of the AACR for several years, where she has received the Minority in Cancer Research award three times. Currently, Dr. Beasley is a postdoctoral research scholar at Vanderbilt University. She is the recipient of the UNCF and Bristol Myers Squibb, E.E. Just Postgraduate Fellowship in Life Sciences, which will fund her research for the next three years. Her research interrogates mitochondrial proteins that influence calcium signaling in cancer in hopes of discovering novel therapeutics. Dr. Beasley utilizes social media to reach colleagues and budding scientists, like herself. Through social media, she earned a spotlight in a national campaign with Gibco/Thermo Fisher for the “Love your Cells” campaign, where she describes how cells influence her research through the arts. Dr. Beasley has 12 peer-reviewed manuscripts, including two Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion peer-reviewed articles, where she advocates for underrepresented minorities in STEMM.

“Remember to let the potential impact that your research has on patient outcomes drive you to always remain curious and open. Diversity develops us as scientists and gives us a unique perspective for understanding problems, so diversify your network, mentors, and staff.”

Golnaz Morad, DDS, PhD

Golnaz Morad, DDS, PhD

NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Surgical Oncology

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Houston, Texas

My research interests focus on understanding the interplay between tumor cells and the components of the tumor microenvironment to elucidate the early mechanisms underlying metastasis formation, in particular brain metastasis. I completed my PhD at Harvard University under the supervision of Dr. Marsha Moses, Vascular Biology Program, Boston Children’s Hospital. The focus of my graduate studies was to determine the role of breast cancer-derived extracellular vesicles in the early steps of brain metastasis. Through this work, I identified the mechanisms by which breast cancer-derived extracellular vesicles breach the blood brain barrier and the functional consequences of this transport with respect to brain metastasis. Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Dr. Jennifer Wargo, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I study the role of gut, tumor, and circulating microbiome in the development and progression of different cancer types including metastatic brain tumors. My ultimate career goal is to become an independent academic researcher, and I intend to continue my research on the initial aspects of metastasis development, with a final goal to translate our findings into more effective diagnostics and therapeutics for cancer patients.

Phaethon Philbrook, BS

Phaethon Philbrook, BS

MD/PhD Candidate, Department of Genetics

LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana

Phaethon Philbrook is currently a fourth year graduate MD/PhD candidate in the Department of Genetics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans (LSUHSC-NO). Originally from Atlanta, GA, Phaethon completed his undergraduate schooling at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. As an undergraduate, he was able to pursue his research interests in immunology in both an academic and industry setting. Phaethon is currently completing his PhD under the mentorship of Dr. Augusto Ochoa and is investigating the ability of free fatty acids to modulate immune cell activity through metabolic reprogramming. He is exploring how modulating the metabolic state of immune cells can potentiate an anti-tumor immune response. Phaethon hopes to pursue a career as a physician-scientists and is passionate about becoming a social advocate for the importance, practice, and implementation of evidence-based research and medicine.

Still in training, Phaethon’s advice to prospective students is to have a strong desire to pursue both research and clinical medicine. The MD/PhD duration is long, and both parts of the program have their own unique challenges. Project failures during the research years are expected, and it is beneficial to have multiple research avenues at the beginning to provide multiple opportunities for a successful project. In addition to completing a project, the goal of a MD/PhD is to learn and develop the skills in becoming a successful physician-scientist. Learning these fundamental skills can take time. Initially, the pace of research might impose a sense of little progress, but small incremental steps forward will yield to larger successes later. We must remind ourselves that developing the skills for evidence-based research is slow and meticulous and is important both at the bench and bedside.

Paulo C. Rodriguez, PhD

Paulo C. Rodriguez, PhD

Senior Member and Professor, Department of Immunology and Immuno-Oncology Program

Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute

Tampa, Florida

Dr. Rodriguez initiated his training in immunology during his Masters, followed by a PhD in tumor immunology and genetics. After completing a fellowship training in tumor immune metabolism, he started his independent research program focusing on the central mechanisms regulating the activity of myeloid cells and T cells in tumors. Dr. Rodriguez is currently a Professor at Moffitt cancer Center and the overall goal of his research is elucidate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control leukocyte dysfunction in cancer, with a focus on T cells and myeloid cells. The long-term goal of his research is to develop new strategies that restore protective immunity in cancer, leading to long lasting anti-tumor effector T cell immunity and effective immunotherapies. Dr. Rodriguez current research focuses in 3 programs: (1) Identify the primary role of the induction of maladaptive endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress as a regulator of the suppressive activity of MDSC and T cell subsets in tumors; (2) Elucidate the role of Notch1 signaling in CD8+ T cells suppression in tumors; (3) Determine the metabolic signatures controlling tumor-induced immune suppression.

“My advice to early-career investigators is to work hard, be open minded to new ideas, persevere on grants and manuscripts, and to create a productive network of collaborations.”