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VAI Voice

The official blog of Van Andel Institute
4 Oct 2021

Graduate student spotlight: Exploring a gene linked to breast cancer

Throughout the year, we highlight Van Andel Institute Graduate School’s doctoral students. This month, we’re featuring Patrick Dischinger, a Ph.D. student in the lab Dr. Matt Steensma. Patrick studies how mutations to the NF1 gene impacts breast cancer risk with the goal of finding new treatment strategies.

How would you describe your area of study to someone without a science background?

Patrick Dischinger

Dischinger: My research focuses primarily on the gene NF1 and the protein for which it codes, neurofibromin. Specifically, I am interested in how mutations or alterations in NF1 expression contribute to breast cancer development in hopes to develop effective treatment options for breast cancer patients with NF1 mutations.

What do you want to do with your degree?

Dischinger: Currently, my aspirations are to use my degree to become a principal investigator and focus on cancer research; however, I am keeping an open mind of other career opportunities that may present themselves in my future.

Did you take time off before starting your Ph.D. degree or come directly from an undergraduate or master’s degree program?

Dischinger: After graduating from Ferris State University with a degree in molecular diagnostics, I sought to gain experience in the field of cancer research to solidify my desire to pursue a Ph.D. I spent five years as a research technician, which provided a breadth of experience which further fed my passion of pursuing a Ph.D.

How has your previous coursework contributed to your breadth of knowledge?

Dischinger: My previous coursework was unique in that it was tailored to understanding and performing various clinical diagnostic tests for human disease. My course work provided me with adequate wet lab experience to run and analyze diagnostic tests, along with understanding the molecular mechanisms and signaling pathways contributing to diseases.

Do you think there is any value in social networking with other graduate students in non-related fields?

Dischinger: I believe there is tremendous value in social networking with other graduate students in non-related fields. This type of networking allows insight into new areas of research and may spark unknown interests I may want to pursue for my future career. Additionally, exposure to other areas of research may lead to collaborative experiments or techniques one may not have thought of inside their own area of research.

How do you think earning an advanced degree will change your role in society?

Dischinger: I believe earning my Ph.D. from Van Andel Institute Graduate School will foster the appropriate training for me to become an effective leader and mentor in the field of science. This will allow me to not only push the boundaries of discovery, but effectively train the next generation of young scientists to do the same.  

What is your favorite stress-reduction technique?

Dischinger: I enjoy spending time with my family, running and golfing. These three things have been very important to keep my stress levels in check.

What accomplishment (academic or other) are you most proud of?

Dischinger: Academically, I am most proud to be the first in my family to not only go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree, but also get accepted and continue my education in a graduate program.

Why did you choose Van Andel Institute Graduate School?

Dischinger: I chose Van Andel Institute Graduate School because of the unique approach they use to train their students. For me, the problem-based learning approach used by the Graduate School seemed appropriate and has been crucial for developing my critical thinking skills in my training to become a scientist.

If you hadn’t been admitted to graduate school, what do you think you would be doing right now?

Dischinger: If I had not been admitted to graduate school, I believe I would still be in a career path related to cancer research. The opportunity to ask questions and discover novel findings to benefit human health is something I have always dreamed of pursuing.

Interested in Van Andel Institute Graduate School? Learn more at vaigs.vai.org and read previous student spotlights here. Read more about the M.D./Ph.D. program here.