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Geoffrey Fox – a student perspective on being awarded a poster prize at a national research conference.

Brian Strahl with G. C. with poster award on stage
Brian Strahl and Geoffrey Fox

This year’s Van Andel Institute (VAI) Epigenetics Symposium: 20(+2) Years of the Histone Code was a special one for UNC and the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics because it was centered around celebrating the 20th anniversary of the histone code hypothesis, which was first described by our very own Brian Strahl in 2000 (they meant to have the conference in 2020, but postponed until this year due to COVID, hence “20(+2) Years”) under the guidance of his postdoctoral mentor, C. David Allis, at the University of Virginia. The histone code has since been shown to be fundamental to gene regulation, and Brian’s hypothesis blossomed into two decades of global research which has provided unprecedented insight into how the genome functions, and how disease, like cancer, can manifest when things are out of order. I joined Brian, who was invited as a keynote speaker, to this symposium and was happy to have been given the opportunity to present a poster summarizing some exciting preliminary data of mine. I figured it was a great way to field feedback and suggestions from the community, while also honing my skills in communicating my science.

Geoffrey Christian with poster
Geoffrey Fox, a graduate student in Dowen and Strahl labs

The agenda was packed with talks that provided a comprehensive view of the most cutting-edge epigenetic research and therapeutics. I’ve admired many of the speakers’ work in recent years, so it was very special for me to be able to meet some of my heroes. When the poster session came around on day two of the conference, I was admittedly nervous – I had never presented data to such an unfamiliar audience before! But fortunately, it all worked out. I had fruitful discussions about my data and the hypotheses we’ve generated based on it, and certainly felt the interest and support from the community. I had thought on the final day of the conference how great it would be to finish off this experience by getting a prize for my poster presentation, but was also aware of the impressive research being showcased by the dozens of other trainees who presented posters as well, so I really didn’t expect to win anything. The awards presentation was directly after Brian’s talk, and to my surprise, I was awarded a second place prize in the graduate student poster competition! I figured I had to catch a photo with Brian on stage. After all, he was already up there!

I couldn’t have asked for more out of my first conference experience. I am very proud to have been able to represent UNC and the Strahl and J. Dowen labs at this symposium, and grateful for my work to have been so well-received by the epigenetics community. I can’t wait to attend more meetings and continue to showcase my work at UNC with pride, doing what I can to show why UNC is a premier destination for epigenetic research.

Geoffrey Fox is a rising 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Curriculum in Genetics & Molecular Biology, doing his thesis work under the joint mentorship of Jill Dowen and Brian Strahl.