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Joe Magrino

Joe MagrinoMeet Joseph Magrino. Joe is from Connecticut, and he is a PhD student in Brian Kelch’s lab. 

Joe loves mentoring and to find creative ways to turn facts into interesting stories, which are easy to remember. He also likes to encourage others by helping them to see their projects from different angles and finding different avenues to tackle the same question. Therefore, when you visit the Kelch lab, it is likely that you will find Joe working together with Josephine Essuman, an undergraduate student who came back to work with Joe again this summer. In his free time, Joe advocates for the LGBTQA+ community, loves going to concerts and to visit different places, seeing his friends as well as doing sports, such as running, tennis, and cross-fit.

What set you on this trajectory of being a scientist?

For many years I thought I was going to be a medical doctor, until one class at college changed my mind. I was taking a class about polymerases, which are the proteins that duplicate our DNA. During this class I got beyond captivated by the properties of these enzymes. My mind was blown by how nature came up with such an elegant design to create these processive enzymes, that not only copy our DNA, but also have proofreading activities to avoid errors. 

How would you describe your research?

During my undergraduate, I tried myself in diverse fields, for example I looked at the motor neurons of ants and studied Merkel cells of brown bats.

For my masters, I followed my curiosity and worked as a molecular biologist in DNA replication &repair. I looked at the consequence of DNA polymerase beta knockouts in cell cultures to gain new insight into Base Excision DNA repair. From there I decided to go to grad school. My goal was to continue to learn more about the pathways that protect our genome. I joined Brian’s lab after rotating in his lab, because I needed to get out of my comfort zone to learn new techniques, which made me feel that I could develop the most. 

Were there any setbacks to your trajectory? How did you overcome them?

At young age, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I was predicted to not even complete high school. This learning disability affected me strongly. As a first grader I had to teach myself how to spell weeks in advance of the test and I tried to memorize what words looked like. This took a lot of extra effort from me, and I would have given up trying if it were not for my supportive parents, who always believed in me. In a standardized IQ test, I got scores below average, but later I saw a specialist who determined that my IQ was higher than average, which could not be seen in standardized tests. 

Around high school I started to overcome my problems in school, even though I still struggled in English. In sophomore year, I had an English teacher who gave me faith, which made me try even more to show everyone that I can do better, despite of my learning disabilities. In general, the past can be hard to shake away and there might always be people that doubt you. Nevertheless, I did the honors program in college and had an advisor who pushed me for it. 

What is your current research focus?

I study the proteins involved in DNA replication and repair with the goal to identify how defects in these proteins can give rise to diseases and impact our well-being. 

What’s the coolest thing about your research at the BMP?

I love coming to work every day and seeing my colleagues. I am fascinated by principles that govern molecular interactions and I am happy to be in a place where I can learn something new almost every day. 

Why did you choose this lab/department at UMMS?

I picked the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMASS because it is one of the few places that realizes that a PhD is an investment. Here, we students are trained and mentored to be prepared for academic as well as non-academic jobs. I like that the school is future-oriented and open-minded towards careers outside of academia. 

I chose this department for my studies because everybody is nice and approachable. I can knock on everybody’s door anytime and have simple and casual conversation about my project. This helped me a lot along the way to understand new concepts and get new ideas, where everything just clicks. 

Any advice you wished you had gotten when you first started as a scientist?

Have confidence in achieving goals, don’t feel like you need to prove anything to anyone. You should be your own catalyst to not plateau: You are always going to be at ground zero when you try something new. Do not be afraid of starting at ground zero, have confidence in trying new techniques, success always takes time. 

What are some of the lessons you learned along the way that you would like to share with our trainees?

You will need to have tough skin, take criticism, be humble, listen to others, but also stay passionate, do not give up and have fortitude. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How can this department help you get there?

I see myself working as postdoc in a research lab or in higher education. 

What role do you think scientists play in helping to solve some of the current issues we face as a society?

I have mixed feelings on what our role should be. In our job, we have the duty to provide data-driven evidence. But what we also need as scientists is to be better at understanding that numbers and hard facts don’t mean much to everybody. We need to learn to present and disseminate information better, as it is our job and duty to educate people. We need to be better at trying to understand our audience. We need to learn how to evoke a passionate’s scientist excitement about facts and data in everyone.