Student Spotlight​​

Tomás Lagunas Jr.​

Molecular Genetics and Genomics, incoming class 2016; 
lab of Dr. Joseph Dougherty

What is your educational/professional background?
I attended the University of California Riverside where I received a B.S. in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Environmental Toxicology and a B.A. in Chemistry. As an undergraduate, I worked for three years in a lab studying defense peptides in Arabidopsis and one year in a lab studying enantioselective organocatalysis. Directly after undergrad, I worked in ag-biotech for four years at Cibus US LLC. Here, I worked with a group of scientists to optimize oligonucleotide-directed precision gene editing for trait development in plants.

Why did you choose to attend Washington University DBBS?
What is your favorite part about pursuing your PhD training here?
From all the schools I interviewed at, none surpassed Wash U DBBS with regard to the level of support that staff and faculty give the graduate students. Also, the genetics department and program at Wash U has built a strong reputation for creating successful scientists. My favorite part about pursuing a PhD here is the collaborative nature that Wash U has constructed. I feel this type of environment fuels innovation and makes for more efficient science.

What research are you currently working on?
My thesis advisor is Joseph Dougherty and the lab is broadly interested in studying the genetics of neurodevelopment disorders. Currently, I'm working on a collaboration with the lab of Rob Mitra using their Calling Cards technology to profile cell-type-specific enhancers in the brain. I've generated data from in vivo models looking at layer 5 pyramidal neurons and GABAergic interneurons. Recently, I've started a second project where we are using a Massively Parallel Reporter Assay to look for functional variants in the untranslated regions of autism relevant genes. Lots of exciting research going on!

Are you involved in any student groups, volunteer work or other ventures outside of the lab?
I've been involved in the Young Scientist Program since I started my graduate career doing tutoring, continued mentoring, teaching teams, and coordinating Summer Focus events. I'm also one of the core members for the Graduate Association of Latin American Students and coordinate/plan several of the Showcase events. Finally, I've completed and plan to continue consulting with the BALSA group. Needless to say, I'm a busy guy. 

What is your favorite part about living in St. Louis? 

I was born and raised in southern California, so it's nice to finally experience seasons although, funny story (or maybe it isn't), I broke my arm my first winter in STL by slipping on some ice. Good times.

What hobbies do you enjoy?
I'm almost always discussing music with peers   it's been one of the biggest influences in my life. My other hobbies are an unyielding dichotomy: I enjoy being outdoors hiking or camping, but I also like laying on my couch watching Netflix.

What is your favorite quote?
“Se dejó llevar por la convicción de que los seres humanos no nacen para siempre el día en que sus madres los alumbran, sino que la vida los obliga otra vez y muchas veces a parirse a sí mismos.” 

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

Who is your biggest role model?
As far as a role model in life, I'd have to say my mom. This woman has made unimaginable sacrifices in her life and you would never know it, since she continues to be this strong-willed and resilient Latina. On the career side, I'd say my previous and current mentor since they have all demonstrated excellence in science and tackle scientific challenges with a fearless demeanor.

What career would you like to pursue after completing your PhD training?
As of now, I'd like to return to industry. I enjoyed and thrived with the structure, research impact, focus, and technical work that industry offers.

What advice would you give to prospective graduate students?
Here is some advice that I've found useful:

 - Graduate school is not easy. It's important to stay productive, but always pace yourself.
You will gain nothing from comparing yourself to your classmates/peers, since we come from all walks of life.
Your mental health is just as important, if not more, than your physical health.
Find a solid group of friends that can provide support in all forms.
 - Have fun. We're all here because we are passionate about research and discovery.

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