Showing There’s More than One Path to Success

The PI in the lab that I am working in this summer, Dr. Michael Tadross, has had a bit of an unorthodox experience in academia. His PhD in BME took an extra three years due to a failed experiment. Then, following this, he made his greatest invention, DART (Drugs Acutely Restricted by Tethering) without having his own lab. Today, he has been able to establish a lab focusing on creating tools to target specific parts of the brain in order to monitor their functions and activities. After having a good discussion with him earlier this week, I’ve learned more about his life and the lessons that he has learned throughout it.

I first asked about his academic background and if he was always interested in what he studies now.  He told me that he had developed an interest in discovering more about brains while in undergrad. In addition,  he began with a background in electrical engineering before graduate school, and was originally interested in developing brain-computer interfaces. However, as time progressed, he came to the conclusion that in order to truly study functions of the brain, one should have knowledge and skills in biological, chemical, and electrical processes. As a result, the Tadross lab features projects studying the biological effects of drugs on behavior, the chemical components best suited for particular drugs, the electrical response of neurons targeted by certain drugs, and more. Also, due to his background in electrical engineering, he was able to look at the brain as a circuit. This has allowed him to obtain a better understanding of the mechanisms of the brain.

However, he told me that he hit some trials along the way. In graduate school at Johns Hopkins, he joined a lab whose topic of study he was not interested in because he had in his own words “a crazy idea” and needed to find a lab that would give his resources, so he made a deal with the PI that he would be able to create his own project for his PhD as long as he helped with projects that the lab was currently working on on the side. Unfortunately, after three years, this project did  not succeed, so he had to start all over with a new project that the lab was working on. This project ended up being very successful. After this, he worked in a prefaculty position known as a fellow in which he was able to do research but with limited resources. After around five years, he was able to come up with a method of delivering drugs to specific areas in the brain (DART) and publish a paper on it, and this really helped him become a faculty member at Duke. Since then, he has been working on new ways to improve DART and using this method to see how different drugs and conditions affect different parts of the brain.

From my talk with Dr. Tadross, I have learned that interests change over time, and though success does not always come easy, hard work is worth it if you are truly passionate about what you are doing. Dr. Tadross used lessons that he learned from his failed experiment in order to create DART, and he still loves doing research more than he loves doing anything else. Above all, I have learned that I should never be afraid to be creative. He told me that there is still so much to learn about the brain, so I should never doubt my ability to come up with something new. Overall, I’m very happy that I got to speak with him, as he has helped me see that I should keep my options open and not doubt my abilities.

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