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Student Spotlight: Joice Kanefsky, Biomedical Sciences Program

After a year of virtual symposiums, a chance to present research in person

News August 30, 2021

Student Spotlight: JoiceJoice Kanefsky, 28, is beginning her fourth year as a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine. She is a native of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil and a graduate of Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. As president of the Graduate Student Association, she organized the Dawn Marks Research Day that was held on Friday, August 27, at Temple’s Medical Education and Research Building. Thirty-five MS, PhD, and MD/PhD students displayed posters or made oral presentations describing their research findings. Everyone from the medical school was invited to attend. This Q and A has been condensed.

Q. What did you hope to accomplish with the Dawn Marks Research symposium?

A. This year, I wanted to get as many students involved as possible. Last year’s symposium was virtual, due to COVID, making it hard for everyone to share their research. Additionally, I think we missed that in-person component. I’m very happy that Temple allowed us to hold it in person this year.


Q. What is one piece of advice you would give to the whoever organizes this symposium next year?

A. Keep things very organized. It’s a lot of emails, documents, forms, and spreadsheets so it’s helpful to have everything tidy from the very beginning. I used Google Drive and it’s a great tool for collaboration.


Q. What is the focus of your area of study?

A. I work on a very aggressive type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia. Specifically, I focus on lipid metabolism. Basically, I study how cancer cells use fats to survive.


Q. What drew you to this area of study?

A.  I was always interested in understanding cancer biology. I was very curious to know what makes our own cells go rogue and become so different to the point of forming a tumor. When I started graduate school, the cancer biology cluster was a natural choice for me. I had worked previously as a tech in a breast cancer research lab and I was interested in many different types of cancers. In the end, when I had to choose a lab to do my dissertation, it really came down to the people in the lab.


Q. What are the biggest challenges and rewards of this work?

A.  As far as challenges go, I think that would be dealing with month-long experiments that fail. Things in science take a long time. It’s not like working on a spreadsheet and realizing you included a wrong formula. Our experiments take a long, long time, and when something fails, it’s weeks or months until you have results. The biggest reward is finding something that hasn’t been described in literature. As scientists, we’re always drafting hypotheses and trying to answer those hypotheses to see if they’re true. I think that’s the most exciting part.


Q. As a student, what was the hardest part of going through COVID last year?

A.  A lot of our labs were shut down for a while so we couldn’t work on our projects. When we could finally go back to our lab at Fox Chase Cancer Center, we had to take shifts. Luckily, we were only three people, so one did morning, one did afternoon, and one did evenings. It was good that we got work on our projects and keep things going, but it is lonely to being in lab by yourself.


Q. What do you like to for fun?

A. I like to go for long walks after dinner when it’s cooler. I live in Chestnut Hill. It’s a lovely area with lots of trees. I also love TV shows. I like true crime, psychological thrillers, cop shows, and drama as well. With Netflix these days, it’s so easy to choose.


Q. What do you plan to do after you graduate?

A. I want to move to the busines side of science. I want to be working on strategy and business development. I did a summer internship at Millipore Sigma’s strategy department and I absolutely loved it. It was different and a business setting, but there were a lot of similarities to what I do in the lab.


Q. Who or what has most helped your success?

A. The people I’ve met along the way. Completing a PhD can be frustrating at times, so being able to talk to people who have been through grad school or who are going through grad school is paramount. I have a very supportive mentor, Stephen Sykes PhD, and my lab mates are very supportive as well. We’re always working together and learning from each other.

- Lillian Swanson