Eye on CDI: Isola Brown

By Kymberly Gowdy posted 05-27-2021 10:29

Isola Brown, PhD

This blog joins others in Eye on CDI that feature the career paths of individuals who started in toxicology as students in the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program and are now in the scientific workforce. This blog was authored by Isola Brown, PhD, and I am pleased to share this message on her behalf.

My interest in a career in toxicology began in an unsuspecting place: my living room couch. Years of Friday night marathons of CSI (Las Vegas and Miami editions, of course!) and a love for chemistry sparked an interest in a career in forensic toxicology. In pursuit of this goal, I attended the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), where I attained a bachelor of arts in chemistry and biochemistry. While at Penn, I conducted summer research in the labs of Dr. Gregory Weiss and Dr. Amy Palmer at the University of California Irvine and the University of Colorado Boulder, respectively. Additionally, during my junior and senior year at Penn, I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Sachais in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. These undergraduate research experiences were instrumental in developing my passion for academic research, and Drs. Weiss, Palmer, and Sachais provided key mentorship and support for my transition to graduate school.

I attended the 2010 SOT Annual Meeting as part of the Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP). This was my first-ever conference, and attending a national meeting of this caliber at such an early time in my academic career was a pivotal moment in my professional development. I gained an early appreciation for science communication, networking, and mentoring as key parts in developing a fulfilling academic career.

In 2012, I matriculated into the Pharmacology and Toxicology PhD program at Michigan State University (MSU). At MSU, I was fortunate to be in a department that housed leaders in various fields of toxicology, including past and present SOT leadership. Although my research interest changed from toxicology to neuroscience during graduate school, the strong and supportive training environment provided by the Pharm/Tox Department ensured the successful defense of my dissertation titled “Enteric Glial Cell Regulation of Oxidative Stress and Immune Homeostasis during Gastrointestinal Inflammation” in 2017 from the laboratory of Dr. Brian Gulbransen.

After completing a PhD, I pursued postdoctoral training as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center (CVRC) at the University of Virginia, working in the laboratory of Dr. Brant Isakson. There, I spent two years studying the role of intravascular endothelial cells in viral infections, continuing my broad research interests developed in graduate school in intercellular signaling in disease. My postdoctoral work was supported by funding from the CVRC Training Grant and a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.

One of my key takeaways from the UDP was the importance of strong and supporting mentorship and advising. Following the model provided to me by the UDP host and peer mentors made mentoring future scientists a priority in my academic training and career. As a female underrepresented minority scientist, this mentorship is particularly targeted to other women and minorities in science (although not exclusively). During graduate school, I was an active member of the MSU chapter of the Graduate Women in Science, an organization through which I mentored middle and high school girls and undergraduate women with a passion for science. I also became a graduate student mentor for the MSU Summer Opportunities Research Program, where I provided one-on-one feedback and guidance to underrepresented undergraduate students engaged in summer research at MSU. I was a steering committee member for the MSU Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a National Science Foundation (NSF)–funded program supporting the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in PhD programs at MSU. In those roles, I played an active role in ensuring gender and racial diversity within academia and gained a novel appreciation for academic mentoring.

This appreciation, and other experiences, led me to my current role as the Associate Program Director of the MS Program in Physiology at the University of Michigan. Since October 2019, I have taught courses in physiology and neuroscience and mentored and advised program students as they prepared applications for health profession programs (such as medicine or dentistry) or other future employment. My work in the MS Program directly aligns with my long-term career passions in teaching, student mentoring and advising, and student success outcomes.