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A Conversation with Dr. Christopher Vakoc: Celebrating 20 Years of Beckman Scholars

Then: 1998 Beckman Scholars Program Award Recipient, Pennsylvania State University
Now: Assistant Professor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory;
MD, University of Pennsylvania, 2005
PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 2007

Dr Christopher Vakoc.jpg

AMBF: Prior to college, were you curious about a career in science?

CV: Yes. I always saw myself having a career in science or engineering, although I never imagined myself in academia.

AMBF: What exposure did you have to knowing what research in a laboratory would be like?

CV: I had never seen a real research lab before my experience as a Beckman Scholar. From this perspective, the Beckman award was extremely influential in giving me a deep appreciation of research.

AMBF: When you heard about the Beckman Scholar opportunity, what inspired you to apply?

CV: I had ambitious aspirations to prove myself as someone wanting a career in biomedical research, but had a rather unimpressive CV after finishing high school. The Beckman award was an opportunity to catch up.

AMBF: What was your research focused on? What were the results?

CV: I studied chromatin structure and function in yeast. We studied how proteins associate with DNA to form heterochromatin. We obtained important electron micrographs of yeast minichromosomes, although this work was never published. Since this time, I have maintained a strong interest in chromatin biology in my own independent laboratory at CSHL.

AMBF: What was the most memorable part about working with your mentor or working in the laboratory?

CV: I formed many tight friendships with scientists, which I maintain to this day. I also developed a life-long passion for chromatin/epigenetics research.

AMBF: How did the experience change your thinking about science and conducting research?

CV: The influence of this experience on my life is profound. Science and research has become the center of my life after this experience.

AMBF: Where did you go after graduation and where are you now?

CV: I joined the MD/PhD program at UPENN. Thereafter I joined Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and am currently an associate professor.

AMBF: Did you continue doing scientific research?

CV: Yes. I currently run a research lab of 15 people studying chromatin biology.

AMBF: What effect did the Beckman Scholar experience have on your career?

CV: Suffice it to say, almost 20 years later I am still studying chromatin biology. This is profoundly influential on me.

AMBF: Do you have any advice for undergraduates considering a research career?

CV: I am encouraging of anyone wanting a career as a scientist. I believe this is a privileged existence.

AMBF: Any final thoughts?

CV: Thank you!