Alumni Spotlight

Molly Gibson alumni spotlight.jpgMolly Gibson
Computational & Systems Biology, 2015; lab of Gautam Dantas
Associate at Flagship Pioneering 

What was your career path like after graduating from Washington University?

Throughout my time at WashU, I had always been drawn to entrepreneurship and the idea of building innovative communities of people around a unique and bold mission. Following grad school, I had the opportunity to join a new venture that was just being formed out of Flagship Pioneering, which is now known as Kaleido Biosciences. Kaleido was taking a unique approach to microbiome therapeutics. While most companies at this time were focused on either microbial “bugs-as-drugs” approaches or full microbiome transplants, Kaleido was developing novel chemistries to target and modulate the metabolic output of the microbiome, initially focused on oligosaccharides. At Kaleido, I built out and lead their computational and data science efforts for microbiome drug discovery. In addition, as one of the first scientists at Kaleido, I was also able to contribute to the overall growth of the company, including team building, intellectual property, fund raising, indication selection, and anything else that was needed. Through that experience I began to train as both a data scientist and an entrepreneur - which just fit. I eventually moved to Flagship Pioneering, a venture creation firm, to continue to develop and grow in these areas and to help conceive, create, and develop the next wave of innovative life science companies.

Why did you choose Washington University DBBS for your PhD training?
The community. The research at WashU and its reputation speaks for itself, but the real differentiator is the training environment. Hands down some of the most innovative, thoughtful, and inspiring faculty and students. The faculty are truly invested in the students and their success and demonstrate that through action. Because of this, I built lasting mentors, colleagues, and friends that I will continue to maintain, support, and lean on throughout my career. 

How did your time at WashU prepare you for your current career?

At

WashU, I was never without opportunity. My current career requires the ability to rapidly learn new areas of science and embrace the uncomfortable, inspire and lead others, and effectively communicate science to any audience. I had an amazing thesis lab and program that truly valued each of these facets of development and growth. For example, I remember for thesis updates and other important talks, colleagues from my lab and others across the CGS (Center for Genome Sciences), would come together for up to 4 hours at a time providing feedback and instructive critique on how to improve the story and make the science and results more clear. Looking back, this culture was so important and really helped shape how I think about scientific communication. Gautam was also the king of opportunity. We used to joke in the lab to watch out for when he would come to you with an “opportunity,” as it was usually code for more work however, it also demonstrated an extreme amount of trust on his part and professional development for us. For example, I co-wrote and served as representative on several large grants, including multi-center grants that required meeting and coordination among several prominent labs at WashU and externally. Through this, I learned to embrace feeling uncomfortable (I'd often find myself the only student in a room of tenured faculty), learn quickly, and ultimately write about science in new and novel ways I guess it was trial by fire, but ultimately one of the best ways I have found to learn. Finally, through my role as co-director of the Young Scientist Program, I was responsible for leading an organization of 100+ volunteer scientists, which came with the responsibility of ensuring there was sustained funding and support for the outreach that had become a staple at the university and St Louis public schools. Through this, I developed skills necessary to represent YSP to university leadership and potential funders, organize and convene board meetings with community leaders, as well as lead and engage volunteers in the mission. It was a transformative experience. 

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at WashU? What was your favorite part about living in St. Louis?

The DBBS retreats especially the Genetics/Comp Bio retreat. It's hard to describe these events if you haven't had the opportunity to attend, but they are definitely a highlight. I hope they haven't changed at all! Much of my love for the greater St. Louis experience came from the Ultimate Frisbee community. These people are amazing it was so fun to come together multiple times a week and compete with them, but also to learn more about their diverse experiences and backgrounds. One of my closest friends came from this group and has taught me so much about education and social justice perspectives that I wouldn't have gotten had I not expanded outside of the research and science communities. 

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Ultimate frisbee, hiking, running, cocktails, exploring, traveling, and really any opportunity for a little competition! 

What is your favorite quote?
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
That's a hard one. I guess I'm always wishing I had more time or could be in two places at once so either the ability to time travel, move lightning fast, or split myself so I could be, for example, simultaneously sleeping and reading a paper. Oh, maybe it is just the ability to get 8 hours of sleep in 10 minutes?! You get the goal. 

Who is your biggest role model?

That's a great question I've been incredibly lucky to have had many mentors and role models throughout my career, so it's hard to say just one. If I think about my time at WashU, Gautam Dantas is at the top of the list. He is brilliant, but there are a lot of smart people out there, what really stands out is his dedication to the people in his lab, including his openness and unique ability to make everyone feel welcome and valued, which created a culture where everyone felt ownership in the success of the lab as whole. It's this people-centric view, combined with extreme creativity, fearlessness, and ambition all with a healthy dose of fun that I hope to emulate. 

What advice would you give to both prospective and current graduate students?
Don't get caught up in plans  embrace the unknown and just continue to take the most interesting opportunity in front of you at any moment. If you fixate too much on one path, you are likely to miss the unexpected, which I have found to be the most challenging and transformative experiences. The most exciting version of the future to me is one where my future career doesn't currently exist. Also, build community! I can't say this enough, but the people around you are brilliant, kind, and fun   you should take every opportunity you can to get to know them as individuals and learn from them.​

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