Alumni Profiles Series: Jennifer Perry
Dr. Jennifer Perry is currently the Associate Director of the Center for Pediatric Cancer Therapeutics in the Department of Pediatric Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Wake Forest University before earning a Ph.D. in Molecular Cancer Biology at Duke University in 2007, where she investigated post-translational regulation of the cell cycle in Dr. Sally Kornbluth’s lab. Afterwards, she studied a rare pediatric cancer, osteosarcoma, as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School under the guidance of Dr. Stuart Orkin, M.D.
What responsibilities do you have in your current job?
The basic research in the Department of Pediatric Oncology at Dana-Farber focuses on understanding the mechanisms that control pediatric cancer development with the goal of developing new therapeutic approaches. The Center is specifically tasked with helping to translate laboratory findings into the clinic. As the Associate Director, my focus is on bringing scientists and clinicians together with the ultimate goal of developing new therapeutics for pediatric cancers. This includes conceptualizing and overseeing preclinical research, managing relationships between the scientists in the Center, department and various outside collaborators, and advocating for clinical trial development. We are currently developing and utilizing patient-derived xenograft mouse models to test drugs and validate targets for pediatric cancers.
Did you know you wanted to go down this career path when you were in graduate school?
Not at all! I am actually quite surprised that I am not doing bench work anymore. At the end of graduate school, I was not sure if I wanted to start my own lab or not, but I chose to do an academic postdoc in order to keep my options open. I finished my postdoctoral training and chose to join the drug discovery lab of Dr. James Bradner at Dana-Farber. We had collaborated during my postdoctoral training and I really enjoyed working at Dana-Farber because the interplay between clinical research and basic research is amazing. In his lab, I managed many of the biology projects and spent a large portion of my time writing grants, grant progress reports, and papers. And that opportunity paved the way for my current position, which is similar but at a broader departmental level.
Has there been anything that’s particularly challenging or surprising about your current position?
One thing that I was not well-trained in is people management. I had to learn it on the fly, and there are no specific classes for management offered to scientists like there are in a business school, for example. The best way to learn is to do it.
How has your Duke education prepared you for your career?
The scientific knowledge and skills are obviously valuable, and graduate school helped me develop a lot of broad-based expertise. On top of that, I was taught adaptability, which has helped me tremendously in my career. Most important of all, however, are the critical thinking skills I gained in the classroom and the lab.
Do you have any advice you want to share with current graduate students at Duke?
Do what you are passionate about. If you don’t quite know yet what you are passionate about, you should network and talk to different people about what they are working on. That will help you identify your options.
Also, graduate students tend to be nervous about two things: writing research proposals and giving presentations on their work. These are two invaluable skills that will serve you well regardless of what you do or where you are after graduate school, so you should hone those skills!
Ph.D. candidate, Molecular Cancer Biology
Felicia Lim is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Molecular Cancer Biology. Her research focuses on how hormones affect our immune system and how this influences their ability to fight cancer cells. She also participates in the Global Health Doctoral Certificate Program as she is interested in using her expertise in research to enter science diplomacy and global health. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, listening to music, and hiking.