Nicholas Blazanin graduated in May with a Ph.D in Molecular Toxicology. This program was recently merged into the Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences (MCIBS) program offered by the HUCK Institutes of the Life Sciences. As a member of Dr. Adam B. Glick’s laboratory, Nick’s dissertation research focused on the cellular compartment known as the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a major site of protein synthesis within the cell. Specifically, he examined the role of ER-associated stress in cell replication and cell aging, in response to the cancer-promoting gene Ras. Although Ras can promote cancer, it triggers cellular aging as a fail-safe mechanism to prevent tumor development in normal human cells. What scientists don’t understand is how Ras is able to bypass this fail-safe to cause cancer. In his dissertation, Nick was able to elucidate a specific protein pathway that allows for this bypassing, thus helping to solve the puzzle. Through understanding such protein pathways, scientists might be able to develop drugs that can influence these pathways to counteract cancer development.

So, what’s it like having a PhD now?

Surreal. It honestly felt like the day would never come when I would finally be anointed with my PhD! I have friends and family members calling me “Dr. Nick”, admittedly words that will take time for me to get used too. However, I am excited that my hard work paid off. As the first person in my family to obtain a PhD, I feel incredibly proud and I hope to serve as an inspiration to friends and family seeking to pursue not necessarily a PhD, but simply higher education in general.

What’s next for you, academia or industry? 

I am currently doing research at Penn State, but my desire is to get back into cancer research. I am currently applying to post-doctoral positions in both industry and academia. At this point in time I prefer industry, but I may be swayed back into academia if the right project comes along.

How is your job hunting coming along? Do you have any advice?

Looking for jobs has been a learning process. While I feel that there are plenty of job opportunities available, the actual number is pretty small because you’ll have certain job locations in mind, certain types of jobs you want, and a minimum salary you’re willing to take. My advice is to make sure you apply to a couple of jobs per week; keep at it and don’t procrastinate. While the resume is important, don’t forget that writing a good cover letter is equally important when searching for jobs. Also, start looking for jobs at least 6-12 months before graduating to increase your chances of having a job once you graduate. While you will get some responses fairly quickly, most won’t arrive for several months. In addition, something I have been recently doing instead of just applying to jobs that have been posted, is that I have been emailing investigators I am interesting in working with directly to see if they have any openings. You may not always a get a response, but you will also never know unless you try!

Is your career headed in the direction you originally thought it would go?

I find that my career goals are constantly evolving. I originally wanted to teach science in high school, but that quickly turned to doing research after working in the laboratory as an undergraduate. My specific interest in cancer stemmed from taking a special topics course on cancer biology as an undergraduate, as well as from working as a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the National Cancer Institute. My training in cancer research continued as a graduate student, and early on (like most graduate students), I wanted to be a research professor in academia. However, my experiences as a graduate student altered that somewhat. I still would like to be an investigator pursuing topics I find interesting, but it does not necessarily have to be in academia.

What will you miss most about Penn State?

I will miss all the friendships that I made over the years and the vibrant atmosphere. However, most of my family lives close by so State College and the Penn State community will never be too far away!

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