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Past Retreats: 2018 Speaker Profiles

Keynote Speaker

Yvette Seger, PhD

Dr. Yvette Seger is the Director of Science Policy for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of 31 scientific societies collectively representing over 125,000 individual biological and biomedical researchers. In this role, she oversees FASEB’s Science Policy Committee and the work of its seven topical subcommittees. Dr. Seger launched her policy career at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine as a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow, where she worked on a report examining processes for identifying and appointing scientists to key federal advisory positions. After leaving the Academies, Dr. Seger held senior policy analyst positions at the research advocacy group FasterCures, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Thomson Reuters before joining FASEB in 2013. Dr. Seger holds a PhD in Genetics from Stony Brook University, and received a BA in Zoology (Genetics Concentration) and Politics & Government from Ohio Wesleyan University.

Afternoon Speaker

Phil Ryan, PhD

Dr. Phil Ryan earned his bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Davis in 2001. He spent two years working as a postbaccalaureate researcher at the UC Davis Cancer Center studying prostate cancer. He joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) in collaboration with the George Washington University in the fall of 2003 to pursue his PhD in genetics. In October of 2008, he successfully defended his dissertation and began work as a postdoctoral fellow. After a short internship in 2011 he joined the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education where he worked on summer intern programs, managing a grant, writing for and managing the OITE Careers Blog, and began developing the Translational Science Training Program (TSTP). In May 2012 he became the Director of Student Services for the NIH GPP while maintaining his work with in the OITE Career Services Center. He currently serves as Deputy Director, Graduate Programs and Student Services. In this capacity he helps run the NIH GPP, the TSTP, the Graduate Summer Opportunity to Advance Research (G-SOAR) program, and the Intramural AIDS Research Fellowship, as well as giving workshops and seminars on career and professional development topics. In his spare time, Dr. Ryan teaches an online course on Cancer Biology through the University of Maryland, Office of Extended Studies.

Career Speakers

Dylan Burnette, PhD

Dr. Dylan Burnette is a cell biologist, artist and fashion designer. He has been studying the cellular cytoskeleton for 20 years and has been specifically focusing on myosin II-based contractile systems for 18 of those years. He did his graduate training with Dr. Paul Forscher at Yale University, where he worked on actin filament-based contractile systems in the neuronal growth cone and how it contributes to axon guidance. During his postdoctoral work with Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), he focused on how a balance between contractile and adhesion systems shape both crawling epithelial and cancer cells. During his training, Dr. Burnette was awarded a Pharmacological Research Associate Training (PRAT) postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the Merton Bernfield Memorial Award for “Outstanding research by a scientist in training” from The American Society for Cell Biology. For the past four years, he has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University, where he studies how contractile systems assemble in the context of cell motility, cell division and muscle development.

While applying cutting edge microscopy to the study of the cytoskeleton, Dr. Burnette also became interested in photography through the microscope as an artist medium. He has received numerous awards for his “micrographs” and founded a company,, that uses art and fashion designed from these micrographs for science communication.

Samantha Crowe, PhD

Dr. Samantha Crowe began her professional journey as a neuroscientist. She earned a doctorate degree from Georgetown University studying brain injury and resilience. She then conducted clinical research through the Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) Program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studying post-traumatic stress disorder, emotions, and decision making. After more than 10 years in academic research, Dr. Crowe expanded her career into strategy, leadership, and advising by serving as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, a large global consulting firm. At Booz Allen, she built a multimillion dollar portfolio, developed effective teams, and advised military health leaders to help enhance their clinical and research programs. Dr. Crowe then had an internal consulting role at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the U.S. trade association representing leading biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. There she served as a chief of staff and senior advisor to executive leaders. Dr. Crowe left PhRMA to start her own business, Evalia Consulting, LLC providing coaching, speaking, writing, and consulting.

Erin Gray, PhD

Dr. Erin Gray recently became a Scientific Review Officer at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where she manages the peer review of applications submitted to the institute, including those for the BRAIN Initiative. As a native Montanan, she began her scientific career at the University of Montana where she earned her BA in Biology (2005) while performing molecular and biochemical research on enzymes involved in neurotransmitter biogenesis. Neuroscience became her passion, and in graduate school at UCLA, she studied the mechanisms of learning and memory in the laboratory of Dr. Tom O’Dell. Using molecular biology and electrophysiology, her thesis work uncovered a novel phosphorylation site on the AMPA-type glutamate receptor which is important for synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus. After earning her PhD in Neuroscience (2011), she joined the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to perform her postdoctoral work with Dr. Dax Hoffman, examining the role of ion channel expression in health and disease. In her tenure at NICHD, she discovered the unique regulation of a calcium channel in a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome. While a postdoc, she pursued her interest in the NIH grants process by performing an office detail in grant review. This experience solidified her commitment to a career in science administration by joining the NIMH Division of Extramural Activities as a Scientific Review Officer (2017), where she utilizes her background in molecular neuroscience to advance the integrity of peer review.

Matthew Hemm, PhD

Dr. Matthew Hemm received his PhD in Biochemistry from Purdue University. After completing postdoctoral training in the lab of Dr. Gisela Storz, he became a faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences at Towson University. Dr. Hemm’s research interests are in the identification and characterization of small proteins in bacteria. His pedagogical interests are in developing curriculum for laboratory classes in which students conduct authentic research. A publication describing more than 30 new small proteins, identified by undergraduate students participating in a Molecular Biology Laboratory class, is currently under review. He was also able to contribute to a grant that Towson University was recently awarded from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, under their Inclusive Excellence initiative.

Stephanie Justice-Bitner, PhD

Dr. Stephanie Justice-Bitner earned her BS in Microbiology from Colorado State University in 1997. She spent two years working as a laboratory technician and phlebotomist in Boulder, CO and Jersey Shore, PA where she gained experience in clinical microbiology. She returned to her studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned her MS in Veterinary Science with an emphasis in immunology in 2004. Before graduating, Dr. Justice-Bitner worked as a research technician at the University of Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, where she identified microorganisms from clinical samples. In 2012, she earned her PhD in Genetics from The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine for her thesis work performed in Dr. Robert Levenson’s laboratory. There she identified several novel proteins that interact with the mu-opioid receptor, utilizing the yeast two-hybrid method and began functional studies on those proteins.

Dr. Justice-Bitner joined King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2011 as a visiting professor of biology and has been tenure-track since 2014. During this time, she has taught many different courses for the biology department and the physician’s assistant program. Her current research with undergraduates focuses on two diverse areas: the molecular and cellular processes in addiction and bacterial resistance to essential oils.

Nikki Keasey, PhD

Dr. Nikki Keasey is a cancer researcher, adjunct professor, and brewery co-owner. She received her BS in Biochemistry and French from Alright College, and her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Penn State College of Medicine. Her graduate studies, using yeast to investigate the mechanism of action of volatile anesthetics, introduced her to Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, an organism that would be important in later work at Spring House Brewing Company. Dr. Keasey joined Dr. David Claxton’s lab at the Penn State Cancer Institute as a postdoctoral researcher, where she moved from studying single-celled eukaryotes to using murine leukemia models to investigate several anticancer therapies including immune-stimulatory cationic lipid DNA complexes and ceramide nanoliposomes. During her post-doctoral studies, she also began her ongoing role as adjunct professor in the chemistry department at Lebanon Valley College.

In her current position as a principal investigator at vivoPharm, a Cancer Genetics Inc. company, she focuses on in vitro studies of novel cancer therapeutics. VivoPharm is a contract research lab that utilizes a collection of syngeneic and xenograft mouse models to perform preclinical oncology and immuno-oncology studies. Dr. Keasey performs a variety of orthotopic inoculation techniques where cancer cells are implanted into their organ of origin, allowing for cancer models that test drug efficacy under more realistic disease conditions. She also specializes in 3-dimensional cell culture models and flow cytometric studies, elucidating the immune response to cancer and testing immune modulatory therapies.

Christopher T. McNabb, PhD

Dr. Christopher McNabb is a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) with Bayer U.S. LLC and a former National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellow. Prior to becoming an MSL, Chris earned his MS and PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington. He then joined the NIH as a postdoctoral fellow in the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). His research used behavioral and molecular methods to investigate the neuroscience of pain, analgesia, multiple sclerosis, the placebo effect, as well as the cognitive and affective factors that influence pain perception. His work included multiple preclinical trials for major pharmaceutical companies; however, he also studied non-pharmacological manipulations for certain disease states. In addition to his research, he has eight years of teaching and public speaking experience in a variety of subjects and settings. During graduate school, he was awarded a special commendation from the Dean of the College of Science for making a positive impact on his students. During his first two years as an MSL, he worked on Bayer’s Neurology team where he won the Rookie of the Year award. Dr. McNabb recently accepted a new position on Bayer’s Oncology team.

Abby V. Robinson, PhD

Dr. Abby V. Robinson is director of communications at the University of Maryland’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. There, she leads a communications team responsible for media relations, internal and external communications, video production, social media, publications, event and marketing materials, and more. Prior to this role, she served as a freelance writer and as a communications officer in the Research News Office at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Dr. Robinson completed her BS, MS, and PhD in biological resources engineering at the University of Maryland. She conducted research for her master’s and doctoral degrees in Dr. Amir Gandjbakhche’s laboratory in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). There, she developed non-invasive optical imaging systems to assess skin properties. While earning her PhD, Dr. Robinson was selected as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellow, and spent the summer of 2005 as a science writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia. She is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and a member of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Jyothsna Visweswaraiah, PhD

Dr. Jyothsna Visweswaraiah has over 10 years of research experience in molecular biology and biochemistry. After graduating from Bangalore University in India, she worked at the Indian Institute of Science, also in Bangalore, where she helped identify novel drug targets in multidrug resistant pathogens. Dr. Visweswaraiah then moved to Auckland, New Zealand to pursue her doctorate in biochemistry at Massey University. There, she discovered a novel regulation of the stress-activated translational control pathway. She then became a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Alan Hinnebusch’s lab at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she worked to understand the finer molecular details of eukaryotic translation initiation. Her work showed that ribosomes are not merely structures that synthesize proteins, but actively participate in start codon selection during translation initiation. She moved to Boston, MA to work at the Harvard Medical School to find small molecule activators on an enzyme that could be used to treat aging related diseases. She then joined Pandion Therapeutics, a biotechnology company developing bispecific antibody therapeutics for patients with autoimmune and inflammatory disease and organ transplants.

Dr. Viswewaraiah is a member of editorial boards and has served as a peer reviewer for many scientific journals. She has also organized and conducted molecular biology workshops that teach routinely used techniques and their applications to high school students.

Robert C. Walker, Jr., PhD

Dr. Robert Walker, Jr., is a native of Dayton, OH. He attended Rust College, a small historically black liberal arts college in Holly Springs, MS, and continued his graduate studies at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. There he joined the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immune Response (MPIR) at Meharry and trained under Dr. Minu Chaudhuri in the Laboratory of Molecular Parasitology, studying Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness. After completing his PhD, he shifted his research focus to HIV-1/AIDS. With that focus, he accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He worked in the Laboratory of Molecular Microbiology (LMM) under the guidance of Dr. Klaus Strebel, a pioneer in the HIV-1 field where he studied host restriction factors on HIV-1 pathogenesis.

At the completion of his postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Walker, Jr. accepted a secondary postdoctoral fellowship in NIAID’s Office of Technology Transfer. As a Technology Development Associate, he was responsible for protecting the intellectual property and the transfer of research materials for NIAID scientists. He then transitioned to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) in September 2013 as the Scientific Operations Officer (SOO) for the NIAMS Intramural Research Program. Dr. Walker, Jr., soon after became Chief, Career Development and Outreach Branch in NIAMS. In this role, he serves as the liaison for all technology transfer projects and manages the training portfolio for all research fellows and the summer research program in the NIAMS Intramural Research Program.

Fellow Speakers (in order of presentation)

Gernot Wolf, PhD

Dr. Gernot Wolf received his PhD in molecular biology from Aarhus University, Denmark, in the laboratory of Dr. Finn Skou Pedersen, where his research focused on target-specific silencing of retroviral vectors and endogenous retroviruses in mice and pigs. Since joining the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the laboratory of Dr. Todd Macfarlan in 2013, Dr. Wolf’s primary research project focuses on understanding the functions and biological significance of KRAB zinc finger proteins (KRAB-ZFPs), a large and rapidly evolving family of transcription factors that may protect mammalian genomes from retrotransposons.

Marina Venero Galanternik, PhD

Dr. Marina Venero Galanternik is a developmental biologist with almost 10 years of experience working with zebrafish. After finishing her bachelor’s degree in biology from the National Agrarian University La Molina in Lima, Peru, she moved to the D.C. area to complete a biochemistry internship at Georgetown University. She then worked as a technician in the laboratory of Dr. Yukio Saijoh at the University of Utah, where she discovered her passion for embryonic development. Dr. Galanternik began her doctoral research studies in the Neurobiology and Anatomy Department at the University of Utah, in Dr. Tatjana Piotrowski’s laboratory. Her studies focused on signaling pathways that control cell migration within the lateral line system of zebrafish. Two years into her graduate studies, the Piotrowski Laboratory moved to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, where Dr. Galanternik completed her studies and earned her PhD in developmental biology. During her graduate studies, she also had the opportunity to complete an embryology course at the Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where she expanded her training in developmental biology, and later became a teaching assistant for the course. In November 2015, she joined the laboratory of Dr. Brant Weinstein in the Section on Vertebrate Organogenesis at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, where she is currently a postdoctoral fellow studying vascular-associated brain cell populations in a zebrafish model.

Joshua Pemberton, PhD

Dr. Joshua Pemberton completed his graduate studies at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, under the supervision of Professor John P. Chang, where he studied the evolution and physiological importance of naturally occurring neuropeptide isoforms in the cellular control of neuroendocrine secretion. Beginning in early 2016, Dr. Pemberton joined the laboratory of Dr. Tamás Balla at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as a Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Postdoctoral Fellow. His ongoing research as a member of the Section on Molecular Signal Transduction focuses on characterizing the molecular mechanisms that control phosphatidylinositol metabolism and polyphosphoinositide flux within subcellular compartments, and how these processes modulate membrane lipid composition.

Danfeng Cai, PhD

Dr. Danfeng Cai is a biologist interested in the healthy and diseased states of cells. Growing up in China, she obtained her BS from Peking University, and later earned her PhD from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine under the mentorship of Dr. Denise Montell, where she used live cell imaging to study how collectively migrating cells use mechanical cues to sense directions. Her PhD work was awarded the Bae Gyo Jung Award by Johns Hopkins University. At the end of 2014, she joined the NIH community as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Cai currently studies how macromolecular crowding inside a cell affects signaling and cell fate decisions. Her work is sponsored by the prestigious Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. Dr. Cai is also an active peer reviewer for many prestigious journals and serves as an instructor for the Confocal & Immunofluorescence Microscopy Workshop.