Carnegie Mellon University
September 07, 2022

Spelman, CMU Alumni Earn Biology Postbaccalaureate Fellowships

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Tahirah Moore and Josiah Saunders were intrigued when they heard about Carnegie Mellon University's Postbac Research Fellowship in Quantitative Biology Research. During the one to two year position, each fellow engages in full-time research with professors and Ph.D. students in the Department of Biological Sciences to enhance their research skills and prepare for the next steps in their academic careers. After they were accepted to the postbac program, they both got to work in their respective labs.

Tahirah Moore

Moore's interest in research first started during her bachelor's degree in biology at Spelman College in Atlanta. There, she took a course on microbiology.

"Dr. Melton showed us how it applied to real-world situations," Moore said. "We did a big project that was individual research within our lab groups, and we got to swab anywhere we wanted for bacteria. My group swabbed different areas in the Albro-Falconer-Manley Science Center."

While looking for bacteria, Moore caught the research bug, and she wanted to learn more. When she heard about the program for recent graduates through Tiffany Oliver, the chair of Spelman's biology department, she was eager to apply.

Moore, who graduated from Spelman in May 2022, is working with Jonathan Minden, professor of biological sciences, on research into programed cell death during fruit fly embryos' development. If they can find the mechanisms behind programmed cell death, they can gain a better idea of how organisms develop.

"I think my favorite part of mentoring students is when they do an experiment, and they realize they're the first and only person in the world to do something," Minden said. "Tahirah is making time lapse movies of embryos developing. One day, she was just looking down the microscope and looked up to me and said, 'Wow, that's really cool.' So, she'd never imagined herself looking at a fruit fly embryo developing."

After Moore wraps up her fellowship, she plans to apply to medical school.

"I feel like I'm learning things through my research that are going to help me in the future with medical schools," Moore said.

Josiah Saunders

Saunders graduated from CMU in 2021 with his bachelor's degree in biological sciences. Prior to graduation, he heard that Charles Ettensohn, professor of biological sciences, was looking for recent graduates to work in his lab.

"I had his course on developmental biology," Saunders said. "I enjoyed the class, and there were a lot of very interesting concepts that weren't in other biology courses."

Saunders and Ettensohn are studying the genes involved during sea urchin development. Saunders is making DNA constructs, creating segments of DNA that can be inserted into the sea urchins. By changing the genes, they can determine which networks determine embryonic development.

Ettensohn said that he wanted to offer students a chance to get hands-on research opportunities while they figure out their next steps after completing their bachelor's degree.

"Many undergraduates are unsure of their plans immediately after college, and many who are in science-related fields are still trying to determine whether research is a path they want to take," Ettensohn said. "Postbac programs can be a tremendous help in sorting all that out. They give trainees time to decide their next career step, provide them with their first full-time research experience, and make them much more competitive applicants to graduate schools, medical schools, and other advanced training programs."

Saunders said he is not sure what his next steps will be after the program, but he is hoping to continue his CMU education.

"I would be interested to have the full Carnegie Mellon experience with undergraduate and graduate school," Saunders said. "I love Pittsburgh, I love Carnegie Mellon and so I would totally love to stay here."

— Related Content —