Mentorship and Collaboration in Research: Dr. Ronald Falk

Mentorship and Collaboration in Research: Dr. Ronald Falk


For the past eight months, I have had the pleasure to work in the research laboratory of Dr. Ronald Falk in the UNC Kidney Center, studying the epigenetic mechanisms of ANCA vasculitis.  This unique experience has allowed me to realize the importance of mentorship and collaboration in research.  The faculty working in this laboratory includes three PhD and four MD scientists.   In addition to myself, at the graduate level there are three PhD students, one MD doing her pediatric nephrology fellowship, and one medical student.   At the undergraduate level there are both students working on projects for credit and students working as work-study students.  You will often find faculty advising graduate students, and the graduate students in turn are teaching the undergraduate students.   As a medical student, I have had the opportunity to teach and advise current pre-medical students, while at the same time receiving advice from the nephrology fellow working in the laboratory.  This laboratory is always encouraging people as they move forward with their career goals, and the collective wisdom of all of its members creates an environment rich for learning.  Recently one of the undergraduate students I mentored was awarded a Howard Hughes grant for undergraduate research at UNC.  She told me that if I had not encouraged her to apply, she never would have.  The moment made me think about all the people who had already encouraged me while researching this year.
On any given Monday morning, all of these researchers gather to discuss one another’s projects and experiments in order to gain insight from each other’s unique areas of expertise.  In these meetings anyone can voice their suggestions for another member’s research while at the same time learn about other member’s research and techniques.  When I first started working in the laboratory, I did not know anything about how to run basic science experiments and talking at our team meetings was beyond intimidating.   However, within a few months time, I learned about antibodies from one graduate student who has been studying antibodies for the past three years,  I learned how to do flow cytometry from another graduate student who has been using this technology for over four years, and I was taught all about epigenetics from a faculty mentor.    Now I am designing complex flow cytometric techniques that have not yet been used in epigenetic research.   I finally feel confident presenting my research findings to our group.  There is no way I could be where I am today without the mentorship and collaboration of the members of my team.

By Kerry Colby