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USC Postdoctoral Association President Rachel Britt on Los Angeles, her research, and getting involved
You may have met Rachel Britt at one of the many professional development or networking events hosted by the USC Postdoctoral Association (PDA), of which she serves as President. Rachel is proud of the work the PDA does to help USC postdocs to connect with each other and further their careers.
“LA can be lonely. It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re new to this city.” Rachel advocates that postdocs get involved in something that is not research-related as a way to meet people. A frequent attendee of LA Philharmonic performances at the Hollywood Bowl and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Rachel practices what she preaches by getting involved in the life and culture of the city. “New postdocs should look through the postdoc handbook, especially the Getting Settled in LA section. There are so many things to do here, and so much good food. There is a whole population of postdoctoral scholars who are looking to meet people and to explore the city.”
Rachel enables postdoc exploration by helping coordinate monthly hikes with the Postdoctoral Associations of other Los Angeles institutions. The hikes are partly a way to enjoy nature, and partly a way to meet other postdocs from all over the LA-Metro area. “The variety of hikes and vistas in and around Los Angeles never cease to amaze me. One month we’ll look out over the ocean, the next we’ll be surrounded by trees in the Angeles National Forest.”
Besides her involvement in the USC Postdoctoral Association, Rachel is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Lieber at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. The research of the Lieber Lab focuses on how DNA is broken and repaired in white blood cells. Rachel’s individual research is funded by the institutional Training Program in Viral and Chemical Carcinogenesis, run by Dr. Peter Jones. She is trying to discover why certain patches of DNA in white blood cells are prone to breakage and rearrangements called chromosomal translocations. Chromosomal translocations are frequently found in cancer cells, and are particularly common in blood cell cancers. Chromosomal translocations in the fragile DNA patches that Rachel studies are a hallmark of Follicular Lymphoma and are frequently associated with other lymphoid malignancies.
“I had always been interested in the science of living things – the nitty-gritty details of biology – and I knew I wanted to study something that was applicable to human disease,” Rachel explains. “Dr. Lieber’s lab provides a meeting point between DNA repair and immunology that I find really fascinating.”
Rachel is depending on her curiosity and enthusiasm for science to sustain her as she approaches the next phase of her career. She is considering a career in Science Policy. “When I attended the National Postdoctoral Association Annual Meeting in the spring, the conference’s keynote speaker – Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – admonished the audience for scientists’ lack of communication with anyone but other scientists. I really took that to heart.” Rachel hopes that by communicating the importance and the substance of science to lawmakers and other non-academic audiences her knowledge will have a positive impact on the policy-making process.
Profile by Alison Beck