A Postdoc Studies Membrane Properties to Develop Her Research Career

Jan. 9, 2019

Dr. Melinda Engevik is a postdoctoral fellow at the Baylor College of Medicine. She studies the cross talk between the gut microbiota and the gastrointestinal epithelium. She shares her experience at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she learned the Ussing chamber technique, a system that measures epithelial membrane properties.  

What first attracted you to science?

I had an interest in science from an early age. My childhood was steeped in experiences in nature. I loved finding and identifying rocks, viewing meteor showers with my telescope and building devices from my parent’s 1960’s childcraft encyclopedias. Science was the tool I used to understand the world around me and I enjoyed figuring out how things worked. These early life experiences drew me towards a career in science.

What is your research about?

My research focuses on the cross talk between the gut microbiota and the gastrointestinal epithelium. A critical part of the epithelium is the secreted mucus layer which provides a protective barrier and interface between the environment and the host. My work focuses on Bifidobacterium species, which are commensal human microbes that are known to adhere to and modulate intestinal mucus. Our preliminary studies with mice indicate that Bifiobacterium dentium is able to colonize the intestinal mucus layer and increase the mucin protein Muc2 and mucin glycosylation compared to germ-free controls. In vitro, B. dentium secreted products are able to increase Muc2 levels in colonoids and mucin-producing cell lines and stimulate autophagy-mediated calcium signaling and Muc2 release. These findings illustrate that B. dentium is capable of enhancing the intestinal mucus layer and points to the potential to use B. dentium as a next generation probiotic.

Congrats on getting the ASM Career Development Grant! What did you use the funding for and how did receiving the grant impact you? 

The ASM Career Development Grant for Postdoctoral Women has already been instrumental in helping me achieve my research and career goals. I used the funds to visit Vanderbilt University Medical Center to learn the Ussing chamber technique from Dr. James Goldenring’s laboratory. This three-week visit was very informative and gave me the expertise needed to use this technique at Baylor College of Medicine. During this time, I was also able to attend Vanderbilt seminars and present my own research. One unexpected benefit that occurred at Vanderbilt was the initiation of a collaboration. Being the recipient of the ASM Career Development Grant for Postdoctoral Women has provided my research with visibility in the physiology field and demonstrated my merit as a young scientist. I am confident that my new Ussing Chamber work will expand my research horizons and will fuel innovation through several funding mechanisms. I am incredibly thankful to ASM for supporting my research and propelling my career towards academic success.

What advice do you have for postdocs in research?

I would encourage postdocs to apply for their own funding. Being awarded a grant benefits your research by bringing national attention to your work; providing travel and/or supply funds; and allowing you to develop an independent project. This is an important step to demonstrate your independence as a researcher. Funding also confirms that your research is impactful and is considered a sign of creativity and leadership potential. I would especially encourage female postdocs to apply for funding or awards even if you think you are not competitive enough. Imposter syndrome prevents us from applying and unfortunately you can never get an award you don’t apply for. As a result, it is important to be proactive and apply.
Apply for the ASM Career Development Grant for Postdoctoral Women Today! Applications are due February 1, 2019. 

Contributor: Dr. Melinda Engevik got her Bachelor’s from Biola University, Master’s from California State University Long Beach, and Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. She is currently doing her postdoctoral fellowship at the Baylor College of Medicine.    

Author: ASM Careers

ASM Careers
ASM Careers staff.