Grad Info

Department of Pathology

Alumni Story

Garrett Gibbons, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania

Gibbons Garrett Gibbons, PhD, came to the University of Michigan after completing his bachelor’s in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Michigan Technological University.  Entering through the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS), Gibbons explored the various programs offered at Michigan Medicine before selecting the Molecular and Cellular Pathology (MCP) Program.  “During my research rotations, I found that the MCP program had many faculty whose research interests aligned with my goal to become a well-rounded scientist with diverse experience.  The flexible curriculum was attractive and I was able to tailor my coursework to enhance my research as opposed to becoming a burden or distraction,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons selected Dr. Zaneta Nikolovska-Coleska as his mentor as her research encompassed many aspects of drug discovery, from rationale design and synthesis of small molecules and biochemical characterization to validation in cell culture models.  “I originally wanted to study Alzheimer’s disease, but her work was in cancer, specifically leukemia,” he explained, “I saw that the approaches, techniques, and complete skill set provided by her training and the MCP curriculum could be applied to any disease I chose to study in the future.”

The tailored coursework combined with the exposure to diverse research through seminars and symposia pushed Gibbons to think outside his dissertation research when taking his candidacy exam.  Upon completion of his PhD work at the University of Michigan, Gibbons returned to his first interest – Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.  “My thesis advisor, Dr. Nikolovska-Coleska, encouraged me to seek funding through Rackham graduate student research fellowships and in my subsequent postdoc position.  Based on her advice, I received F32 funding as a postdoc and built experience grant writing, which is an integral part of my career goals, pursuing an independent academic research position.”

"I saw that the approaches, techniques, and complete skill set provided by her training and the MCP curriculum could be applied to any disease I chose to study in the future."

Since leaving the MCP program, Gibbons has been working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease at the University of Pennsylvania under the mentorship of Drs. Virginia Lee and John Trojanowski.  “I am currently pursuing independent academic research positions and applying for NIH funding while continuing to publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals and attend national conferences to communicate my work to the broader scientific community.”

“I highly recommend the MCP program at U of M because they support their students, have faculty with diverse research interests, and have a flexible curriculum.  In terms of choosing a mentor, go with your gut when you do a research rotation.  Is this someone you can work with for the next five years?  Are they invested in your success and is there support in the lab to help you achieve your goals (funding, personnel, resources)?” advised Gibbons.

“Embrace the opportunity to write a grant on something you’re not familiar with during your candidacy exam,” he advised.  I’ve had to do it again later in my career and that experience taught me that I could do it.”  When you graduate and are seeking a position, Gibbons advises that you try for the position you really want.  “I applied for my dream job and got it.  There were plenty of rejections and no-replies when cold emailing people I wanted to work with, but you only need one to work, so go for it!”