MCB Alumni Profile
Dr. Susan Arruda, 2005 graduate of Dartmouth's Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) Program, now assistant professor at Franklin Pierce College, is working to bring high quality research and research opportunities for undergrads to a small liberal arts setting. Major research universities are the normal venue for active research programs, where investigators can take advantage of high-tech, on-site facilities such as sequencing and computing cores and collaboration with researchers focused on similar questions. While the focus of a smaller liberal arts college is mainly on teaching, Arruda has been establishing a research program for Drosophila neurogenetics in collaboration with her former advisor Patrick Dolph, with funding provided under the NIH IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (IDeA-INBRE) program.
Susan's formative interests in biology started while she was in high school, where her success and enjoyment of Biology classes spurred her on to become a Biology major in college. As an undergraduate, Susan studied at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. Her interests in cellular and molecular biology grew to the point where she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in this area. The Dartmouth MCB program provided what she was looking for in terms of quality of research and location. While not knowing exactly what research questions she was most interested in, first year rotations allowed her to explore different research programs and advising styles to find a great match with the Dolph lab. According to Susan, her choice of thesis lab was based on several factors. In terms of her thesis project, molecular neurobiology provided interesting research questions, while the model system (Drosophila) provided great flexibility for experimental inquiry. Equally important was her good fit in the lab, and rapport with advisor Patrick Dolph. Dolph provided both invaluable guidance and research independence as her thesis progressed.
Although Susan found her thesis work engaging, her post-PhD interests took her into undergraduate teaching at adjunct professor positions at Simmons College and Tufts University. She eventually settled down in an associate professorship at Franklin Pierce University. Franklin Pierce is a relatively new (founded in 1962), small liberal arts school near Keene, NH. Teaching at Franklin Pierce meant a reduction in research resources compared to schools such as Dartmouth and Tufts, but the small class sizes and extra interaction with students provide many advantages which allow Susan to make significant and personal impacts on her students' academic experience, a benefit often lost to students in large lecture hall classes. Smaller department size likewise allows Susan to play a larger role in planning the department's strategic direction. At Franklin Pierce, many of the students are heading for a career in medical fields, so Susan helped to create a Health Sciences major to provide a curriculum tailored for students entering healthcare.
Yet for students interested in research in the biological sciences, there is no replacement for real-world experience. Although several field biologists in the Franklin Pierce biology department have independent funding and perform active research, there wasn't any active molecular researcher at the school. The goal of the NIH's INBRE funding program is to improve this situation in states with a shortage of biomedical research training. According to the programs' website, "IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) promote the development, coordination and sharing of research resources and expertise that will expand the research opportunities and increase the number of competitive investigators in the IDeA-eligible states. The New Hampshire INBRE program, managed by a veritable all star cast of senior researchers at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine in partnership with University of New Hampshire, provides funding and research support to biomedical science programs at small undergrad colleges around the state.
As a participating investigator in the NH-INBRE program, Susan was able to resume working on Drosophila neurogenesis. Her current project investigates a G-protein coupled receptor mutant. Flies expressing this mutation in their optical neurons exhibit low levels of rhodopsin in associated photoreceptor cells, indicating some mutant associated regulatory compensation. Susan has several honors thesis students working on the project, and should publish within the year. It is an outstanding example in which Dartmouth MCB alumni Susan Arruda benefitted from the programs' top quality research training, as well as propagating the teaching excellence in undergraduate education for which Dartmouth College is known.