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Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Christopher Jahns

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Each month the BMB Department features a department member's unique story.

This month, Haley sat down with BMB graduate student, Christopher Jahns in the Flores-Kim Lab. Read on to learn more about Chris' life and the unique perspectives he brings to UMass Chan.

Where did you grow up?
I was born in a Long Island town called Glen Cove.  We moved around a few times, but most of my youth was split between the LI towns of Levittown and Seaford. I graduated from Seaford High School, where I was involved in marching/concert/jazz bands (where I played the trumpet/guitar) and various sports (baseball, competitive rifle shooting). I went to school for undergrad at SUNY Stony Brook, also on Long Island. Despite my extensive history there, I knew I wanted to live in Boston/New England from my very first visit and I’m so glad I made the move. I have fully adopted the ways of New England and now drink iced coffee in the winter as well as the summer.

What led you to pursue a PhD?
A few years before I arrived here, while I was a research assistant in a proteomics lab, my wife developed a MRSA infection [(Methicillin-Resistant Staph. Aureus, a bacterial infection that is difficult to treat due to its resistance to many antibiotics)] that landed her in the hospital. Thankfully she made a full recovery, but the experience inspired me to start making the transition to a career focused on exploring antimicrobial resistance. I chose to pursue a PhD to cultivate the tools to fully invest myself in an area that can help fight a problem that affects so many people and (hopefully) make a difference.

Why did you come to do your training at UMass Chan?
When I set out to apply to schools for PhD, I knew I did not want to move us (we love where we live). UMass Chan fit the criteria, having a microbiology program (though, I’d prefer “IMP” to be named “MIP”) and faculty that do fantastic research. At first, I certainly was not thrilled about the idea of commuting here every day from Boston, but meeting the faculty and staff during interviews and campus visits really made this school an easy choice. The atmosphere is supportive and collaborative, which I find to be extremely valuable as a student. Once I arrived, I was fortunate to find a spot in  a great lab that does exciting research (Flores-Kim Lab) with a fantastic mentor.

What are some setbacks you’ve faced in your journey so far, and how did you overcome them?
Arriving here, I was absolutely terrified of public speaking. My first rotation presentation in the SIBR course was an exercise in managing a panic attack while trying to sound coherent (apparently, I did okay). I use my fear as motivation to get better in the hope that it’ll help my confidence/comfort.  Communicating your work is just as important as what you’re doing at the bench, so I use every presentation as an opportunity to improve and to be less intimidated.
Also, being an older student, the amazing leap in science that has happened in the 20 years since undergrad has presented a bit of a steep learning curve that has required a lot of extra reading.

How would you spend your time if you never had to work again in your life?
For me, it takes about a week of “doing nothing” to get incredibly bored.  I would spend my time focusing on being a better guitar player (I play hard rock, metal, and classic rock type stuff), reading, and probably taking classes somewhere to keep learning within a deadline-oriented space for accountability. I look to improve (even a little bit) every day, and not having to work would not change that at all.
With all that said, I’d do nothing for a week every month to improve at doing nothing (all of this after finishing my PhD, of course).

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
The thought of packing and moving is exhausting. I’m fine where I am. On the other hand, if I don’t have to work again (from the previous question) and I could afford to just buy new stuff when I arrive, I wouldn’t mind living in a place that doesn’t have winter (like San Diego).

What is your favorite kitchen utensil?
Kitchen tongs.  They’re versatile (you can use them for gripping, mixing, even cutting) and convenient (they close for easy storage). Plus, whenever I use them, people always start laughing because they’re usually unnecessary for the task at hand but get the job done anyway. I’ll argue for the use of tongs anytime.