Dr. Paulsen is Assistant Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. She has been in the pain field for 7 years and has been an IASP member for 2 years. She received an IASP Early Career Research Grant in 2018 for her project “Uncovering the regulation of TRPA1 by irritants and proteins.” Here, IASP talked with her about her research and her thoughts about the pain field. To find out more about her research, visit her website.
What do you think is the next big “hot topic” in the pain field?
This is a tough one because it’s quite subjective, but I am most excited about seeing papers characterizing biochemical, genetic, and physiological changes to sensory neurons associated with the transition from acute to chronic pain. What does “hypersensitized” mean, on a molecular level? What’s changing? And how are those changes maintained?
Those answers may well reveal novel state-dependent drug targets.
What has been your biggest professional challenge/obstacle thus far and how did you handle it/overcome it?
Starting a lab! It is an honor and a privilege to start my own research group, but research scientists also receive no formal training in team management, member recruitment, how to mentor to each person’s unique needs and talents, conflict management, behavioral issues management, etc. prior to starting their own lab. I was surprised to find that these are the things that consume the majority of my time and mental bandwidth in the first few years. To aid with this, I have taken every opportunity to participate in faculty mentoring programs, large and small, and I benefit greatly from supportive fellow faculty at Yale and a wonderfully supportive postdoctoral advisor who I rely on more for advice as a junior faculty member than I ever did as a postdoc in his lab. My group is a work in progress, and I think we are on the right track.
Who inspires you? How has their research/ clinical practice impacted yours?
I am most inspired by my post-doctoral mentor, David Julius. His research program is diverse, entirely curiosity driven, and is not limited to his own research expertises. He encourages his graduate students and postdocs to follow their interests and talents using whatever techniques are needed to answer a given research question, he trusts his team to learn the necessary techniques, collaborates with experts in other fields, all while maintaining a high expectation for scientific rigor. Additionally, he has a real ability to determine quite early on whether a research project is worth the effort or will reveal something new; he has a wonderful patience and confidence that allows him to be exactly the type of mentor each person uniquely needs; and as a mentor, he was always keen to know what he could do to help. Who could he put you in contact with? What could he help you find? He gave me a clear example of what and how I aspire to be.
How did you decide on your post-doctoral program/mentor? Any advice for those looking for theirs?
My PhD is in Chemical Biology and in graduate school I studied protein cysteine oxidation as a regulated post-translational modification in eukaryotic signal transduction pathways. My goal for my postdoc training was to completely change fields and techniques by finding a lab and research topic that would challenge and inspire me. While this was intimidating, I felt it was the best way to further develop my scientific foundation to be creative, to think outside the box, and to tackle new research problems from many diverse angles. While that sounds great, how was I going to find such a lab? The scientific world was my oyster, there were endless possibilities, and there was no clear place to start looking for labs I had never heard of.
I was introduced to David Julius’ lab when I was flipping through issues of Nature and came across his group’s manuscripts characterizing the molecular determinants of infrared detection in rattlesnakes and vampire bats. A targeted PubMed search led me to additional papers identifying active components of venoms from snakes and spiders that caused pain. Every paper I read had some interesting animal or critter as Figure 1a, and while I did not have a familiarity with any of the techniques his group used, the papers were so clearly written that I understood the big picture. This was the coolest lab I had ever seen! Some digging into the Julius lab website revealed that almost every postdoc from his lab had gone on to obtain a faculty position, which was my dream job.
I still remember the excitement I felt sitting alone in the library at Scripps Florida when I realized I’d somehow stumbled on my scientific holy grail: a lab whose unfamiliar scientific approach and questions lit my soul on fire, and an advisor who clearly had some magic ability to help his postdocs realize their dreams. My advice to others is to similarly find a lab that excites you, will challenge you, and is headed by an advisor who cares about their lab members, is cued into their long-term career goals, and can and will help them achieve those goals.
Why did you become an IASP member?
I joined IASP in 2017 when I applied for an IASP Early Career Grant. I learned about this grant when reading through a pain-focused issue of The Scientist and knew I had to throw my hat in the ring.
Do you have a favorite account to follow on social media—for science or other topics?
I try to stay away off of social media, but I love watching the new videos from The Fitness Marshall on YouTube. He’s really funny and I’d love to take a live class someday. For staying up on science, I peruse new issues of top journals weekly and I receive email updates from NCBI.
What are the top 3 words your best friend would use to describe you?
Effervescent, driven, and fearless (I asked her).
Interested in becoming a member of IASP?
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- PAIN Journal
- Pain Education Resource Center (PERC)
- Access to 24 Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
- Online Career Center access
- Discounts on World Congress
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