“I applied to many grad schools but it was the diversity of research in the PIBS program at U-M that attracted me,” says Briana. The fact that she’s a three hour drive from her family in Canton, Ohio is a nice perk of attending graduate school in the Midwest, and convenient as well is the fact that the school she chose is one of the best in the country.
“Through my PIBS rotations, I was interested in stem cell biology and regeneration. I rotated through multiple labs and they all had different models for stem cells – cancer, cardiomyocites, and the one I joined, Jason Spence’s lab, focused on differentiating stem cells in a dish into endoderm derived organs. When I joined the lab, I was really interested in deriving a tissue in a dish. This has been one of my goals and I was very excited for the opportunity to pursue it in grad school.”
Brianna’s specific research focuses on creating lung tissue from human stem cells. She explains, “This has been done on a monolayer only and efficiencies for protocol weren’t very good at the time. We wanted to make 3D models so they have structures that are relevant for the lung. We established conditions to make 3D lung tissue in a dish, and this has become a really exciting new model for the field.” This lung model can then allow us to study human lung development and disease including genetic disorders. Briana says, “We can take stem cells from patients and study diseases in a dish to see how tissue develops and what drugs work. We can study induced pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, emphysema – there are endless possibilities with this work.”
While finishing her dissertation this year, Briana is pursuing a postdoctoral position in labs involved with biomedical engineering. She describes, “I want to develop my work with tissue culture. I am now interested in using different scaffolds to develop tissues and make them able to be transplanted into a patients. My goal is to stay in academia and do research and teach.”
Now that Briana is in her last year at U-M, she reflects on that experience: “I’ve had a great experience in grad school. I really like the seminars and workshops available to us, whether they’re about other career opportunities or writing workshops or how to build a resume. There are so many tools and people I can talk to. I feel like I can talk to anyone – from a PI to a grad student – everyone is very open and friendly. That open free environment fosters great collaboration. I’ve never seen a university with so much sharing and collaboration.”
An avid runner, Briana enjoys the variety of running options around Ann Arbor, from short runs near her downtown home to trails and the Huron River nearby. Her marathon training runs are often early, and she’s particularly grateful for the well-lit campus environment. She spends time with friends and enjoys the consistently evolving restaurant scene in Ann Arbor, particularly the chance for happy hours with her lab mates. “My faculty mentor celebrates our successes, taking us out for happy hour when someone publishes a paper or receives funding. He’s been a huge support for me. He lets me come up with my own research ideas, whether small or big. He’s open to what I want to do for my future and is willing to help me in whatever way he can.”
Briana’s been involved in Rackham programs and workshops, really enjoying the What Now? Program to help graduate students explore career options outside of academia. She is also part of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS), through which she’s organized career workshops with support from Rackham staff. “I take advantage of events Rackham puts on. Rackham does such a good job with students.”