Studies in Indian Place Names (SIPN) with ISSN 2394-3114

Ph.D Student Spotlight- Nathan Duval

Undergraduate Degree –  Bachelor of Science, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Adams State University, Alamosa, CO
Graduate Degree #1 – Doctor of Philosophy, Biological Sciences, University of Denver


Describe your research position and your specific role.
I am a graduate research assistant in Dr. David Patterson’s lab.  Our lab is interested in the cognitive and behavioral disabilities faced by persons with Down syndrome and in developing therapeutics to ameliorate these disabilities.  We also study the purine biosynthesis pathway, which has implications in many human genetic disorders including Down syndrome and some cancers.  My dissertation research uses a mouse model of Down syndrome to study the metabolomics of brain aging.  We are hoping to better understand the changes that may occur with age-related disease compared to healthy aging.
In relation to starting in your graduate program, when did you begin looking for a position and how did you find it?
After completing my undergraduate work I was fortunate to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for two years.  There I was able to gain valuable experience and on the job training in a strong scientific setting.  The people I worked for really inspired and pushed me to seek a graduate degree.  About a year before my target start date I began researching topics I was interested in.  I found Dr. Patterson at the University of Denver and was interested in his work, so I contacted him.  After several conversations and a lab visit I felt strongly that DU was a place I could be successful and flourish.
How did you balance an internship while enrolled in graduate school? Describe any challenges you faced and strategies you used to overcome them.
I completed my coursework in my first year of school and afterwards I began working full-time on different research projects in lab as well as my dissertation research.  Time management is one of the things you learn quickly.  Initially, I had a teaching assistantship.  Balancing teaching duties, grading, and coursework in addition to 40+ hours of lab work will force you to become better at managing your time.  It’s crucial you find some personal time to go for a run, a bike ride, walk the dog, drink some beer, or all of the above.
I think we all encounter different difficulties as we work through graduate school and each person has a different motivation for pursuing a graduate degree.  In those moments of despair, when you feel like a stick in the mud, remind yourself why you are here and keep working, it’ll pay off.
How has your research position contributed to your long term career goals?
My long-term goal is to run a research lab, hopefully at a university. I believe that my time at DU has more than prepared me to reach this goal.  To be a successful researcher, you not only have to have strong research skills, you also need to be able to secure funding, manage people, money and resources.  While at DU I’ve been given the opportunity to succeed both in and out of lab, which have been essential to my development.  I’ve had the opportunity to mentor 10 undergraduate students, 4 of which have completed an honors thesis.  We have had the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers both on campus and internationally.  I’ve been very fortunate that we have been successful at publishing our research, which is very beneficial to my long-term success.  I’ve also been active in graduate student government, recently as president of the largest graduate student association on campus (GSFF).  All of this has helped diversify my skill set, which will be invaluable in the future.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students as it pertains to finding an internship/research position during graduate school?
I don’t have any specific advice on finding research positions, mainly because I came to DU to work specifically with Dr. Patterson, and I was involved in developing my dissertation research from the beginning.  It is really easy to put your head down and grind away at your research, but I think you might be missing many opportunities that will undoubtedly position you to be more successful in your career.  I think a successful graduate student has their head up.  They are always looking for opportunities to develop themselves professionally, not just to fill a line on a CV, but because they genuinely have a passion to learn and grow.  Be the creator of your own success!

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