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Meet some of the people featured in the April 2012 issue of The Scientist.

April 1, 2012

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos introduced Marc Kuchner to astronomy. He got his first real taste while working a summer job in the astronomy department at Harvard University, where he majored in physics. In graduate school at Caltech Kuchner encountered the “crazy” first discoveries of exoplanets, planets orbiting stars outside our solar system, whose existence at the time was hotly debated. So enamored with the subject that he would have taken “any project to get involved,” Kuchner asked Michael Brown, later famous for helping to downgrade Pluto’s planet status, to advise him. Although offered some “crummy” exoplanet data to analyze, Kuchner responded, “I don’t care—I’ll take it!”  He still researches exoplanets, including Earth-like planets capable of supporting life, “or at least bacteria.” But exoplanets aren’t Kuchner’s only passion. He’s also a songwriter, and has traveled to Nashville for 15 years to write, record, and sell his country music songs. Working in the music industry gave Kuchner insight into marketing, which he describes as “learning what people want and need and helping them get that.” Scientists aren’t taught the value of these skills in graduate school, Kuchner says. In this issue’s Reading Frames, Kuchner riffs on the topic of his new book, Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times, offering advice to scientists hoping to land the job they want or working to increase public awareness of science.

Max Wicha knew he wanted to do research even as an undergrad, but rather than jump into a PhD program after graduation he headed to medical school at Stanford University. “I wanted to do research that would impact patients,” Wicha says, and Stanford had a program that supported medical students doing research. Now he balances treating breast cancer patients in the clinic with investigating cancer stem cells in the lab. Wicha, who helped formulate the cancer stem cell hypothesis, remains committed to finding clinical applications of his research and formed a biotech company, Oncomed Pharmaceuticals, to test potential drugs that wipe out cancer stem cells. When Hasan Korkaya and Suling Liu joined Wicha’s lab at the University of Michigan as postdocs 5 and 7 years ago, they took a gamble. At the time, Wicha was one of only a few researchers working on cancer stem cells, whose role in malignancy was doubted by many. Korkaya and Liu “had to believe cancer stem cells would be important,” says Wicha. Their gamble paid off—both are now assistant professors. In their feature article, “Are Cancer Stem Cells Ready for Prime Time?”, the three collaborators discuss the molecular underpinnings of cancer stem cells and their clinical implications.

Growing up in a rural part of Washington State, Sabrina Richards has always had an interest in nature and ecology. As an undergraduate she spent a summer studying wetlands near Seattle. That experience resulted in a bout of allergies and a tonsil infection that required surgery, leading her to think: “maybe someone with allergies shouldn’t be doing field work,” she says. The experience, as well as a subsequent research gig at an immunology lab at the University of Washington, engendered her fascination with the body’s defense mechanisms. After graduating from Brown University with a major in computational biology, Richards obtained a PhD in immunology from the University of Washington in 2002. Seven years and countless mouse dissections later, Sabrina left research behind to merge her long-standing interest in science with her love for writing, enrolling in New York University’s master’s program in science journalism in 2010. Richards came to the The Scientist as an intern in September 2011, and has been an invaluable member of the editorial team since. In this issue, she takes on this year’s Best Places to Work for Postdocs and writes about 17th—century collections of natural history oddities in this month’s Foundations.

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