Teaching Opportunities

Dave Matthews is a 4th year doctoral student in the Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis program in the Laney Graduate School’s Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. He is also a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program, or MD/PhD, offered by the Laney Graduate School and Emory School of Medicine. Dave won the 2017 3MT competition at LGS. More recently, we caught up with him to learn about his research and what advice he might offer to new and current graduate students.

Dave, you won the 2017 3MT competition, which asks you to explain your research to a non-specialist audience in three minutes or less. I’m going to ask you to do that now, but in 100 words or less.

Here goes. More than 25,000 people a year receive a life-saving organ transplant. Unfortunately, your immune system recognizes and rejects these non-self organs within days. For decades, transplant patients had to take lots of drugs, which affect almost all your organs, causing complications that can lead to death or the loss of your transplant. I study one of the cells responsible for rejection: T cells. I try to understand how T cells get activated and kill transplanted organs. By understanding their basic signaling requirements, we can develop targeted drugs to prevent rejection without unwanted side effects.

The Laney Advantage

This year, a bit more than 400 students have embarked on their graduate studies at LGS. Other than your research, what opportunities have you found helpful or meaningful to your own journey? 

I have really loved several LGS opportunities that allowed me to engage in teaching. I was an ORDER fellow, “On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers,” where we partnered with IDS (Interdisciplinary Studies), and I had the opportunity to develop a brand new curriculum and teach a new class with incredible graduate students from Comparative Literature, Neuroscience, and Professor Kim Loudermilk from IDS. Teaching this class to college students has really improved my teaching ability, as well as my skills as a critical reader, writer and creative thinker. The ORDER program is a unique and wonderful educational experience that exemplifies the strengths of Emory and LGS: the vertical integration of the university that brings cutting-edge research from prolific labs into the classroom to the academic benefit of college students, graduate students and faculty.

And, of course, I really enjoyed my experience in the 3MT competition. In the current social and political climate, it is absolutely crucial for every scientist to be an ambassador for their field. Relating your project to a broad audience, without watering it down, is (1) possible and (2) imperative. I’ve found people will happily give you an hour if you give them a reason to listen in three minutes, or less. 3MT forced me to come to the heart of my project quickly, but deliberately.

You are well into your graduate journey here at Emory. What advice would you offer to new or current students at LGS?

I highly encourage graduate students to look for opportunities to teach, especially across disciplines, where thoughtful scholars can ask basic and provocative questions that push you to know your field, and where you can benefit from the perspectives, approaches, language, writing skills and presentation skills of other disciplines. And importantly, the undergraduate students, who are brilliant, are incredible teachers and budding scholars.

I’ve also recently been realizing how great a human endeavor research is (kind of late I know, especially as a graduate student!). As a country it says something about the public that we agree to be a civically engaged society and make research a national, public priority. To that end, the moral and social responsibility of research is significant. It’s not an academic rat-race, although it may be portrayed as such. Society asks us, with their dollars and their confidence, to increase the public fund of knowledge. That’s amazing. Thus, I would argue it is the moral responsibility of scientists to make good on the deal, to complete the social contract as it were. Not just to do the work, but to come back to society, process the work, and translate it.