ISACB eCirculator Interview: Julie Phillippi
Name: Julie Phillippi, PhD
Title: Assistant Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Bioengineering
Describe your research in a tweet (< 140 characters):
Influence of perivascular ECM on microvascular function in aortic disease and development of matrix-mediated therapies for aneurysm.
What is your relationship with ISACB?
Member since 2010, Founding Chair- Webinar Committee (2014), Women’s Committee (2017) and Member of Executive Board (2016-2018)
Why did you get involved with ISACB, and what are your favorite things about the society?
I was initially drawn to the society because it truly held up to its mission as an interdisciplinary society. The first meeting I attended was in Boston in 2010. The relatively small size of the meeting and the society was the perfect opportunity for me, as junior faculty to make new connections with established investigators in the field, as well as other junior faculty and trainees. I would say the ISACB has that “small town feel with all the big city perks”!
What is a routine day in your lab?
No two days are ever exactly alike. However, I do try to set aside a little time early each morning at home to do some writing. When I get to the office, I return e-mails, schedule meetings, and review my to-do list for the day. I will stop in the lab to check on our staff, inquire about experiments in progress, and answer any questions. I like to do some of my own benchwork as well. My favorite days include making progress on writing a grant proposal, designing an experiment, or analyzing data.
You hold appointments in both the Schools of Medicine and Engineering. What are the challenges and opportunities in bridging these disciplines? Any advice for those interested in interdisciplinary research?
While it is sometimes a challenge to successfully interface with clinicians and contribute to the goals of clinical department, the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. The bridge is built through open and frequent communication among surgeons, biologists, and engineers which is a challenge as well as an opportunity. We’re beginning to see some exciting ideas emerge when minds from these disciplines are in the same room. My advice to trainees is to be mindful of a clinician’s priorities to their patients and remain flexible (e.g. be willing to meet at 6am!).
How did you become interested in cardiovascular research in general and vascular wall remodeling in particular?
In 2007, as a post-doc working in extracellular matrix signal patterning of stem cell behavior, I was presented with the amazing opportunity to team up with a Cardiac Surgeon (Dr. Thomas Gleason) and help start a new research program at Pitt in the Division of Cardiac Surgery. Since then, I’ve been pursuing my interests in matrix signaling and applying that work toward understanding the important clinical problem of aortic disease. Having a dedicated clinical collaborator has been an indispensable component in my work.
If you could solve one research problem, what would it be?
I would figure out a way to determine lifetime risk for aortic rupture for any given patient.
What is it like to be a Penn State alum working at Pitt? Any divided sports loyalties?
There are many Penn Staters at Pitt and I think we’ll always share a fondness for our alma mater “Dear Old State”; however, I have developed a strong appreciation for Pitt as an institution of academic and research excellence that is exemplary for medical advancement and collaborative biomedical research. I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to build my academic career at Pitt. And no, there are no sport rivalries. WE ARE…!
What advice would you give to trainees seeking a career in research?
My advice is to nurture your friendships from college and graduate school. These friends will become part of your broader network and your collaborators. That college roommate who switched into business school could help connect you to a CEO for your start-up company. Or that pre-med major might become your primary clinical collaborator. My other piece of advice is to learn to speak the languages of other disciplines so that you can ask the important questions that helps them help you to move your research forward. Don’t be afraid of following non-traditional paths in academia.
Any final thoughts?
Research can be stressful, frustrating, and full of rejections. Believe in yourself, be patiently tenacious, build on strengths, and stretch your creativity. I believe it’s important to actively encourage others as well.
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