My name is Jessica Hartman, and I am currently an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina. My lab studies how lifestyle factors shape metabolism and ultimately impact response to toxic chemical exposures. I participated in the Arkansas INBRE program in 2010, so it is just past my 10-year anniversary of participating in the program. It was the summer before my junior year while attending University of Arkansas at Little Rock. At that time, I was a chemistry major, and had been doing research in a Physical Chemistry lab during the prior semester.
The INBRE summer research program completely changed the trajectory of my career. When I applied for the program, I expected to continue my research at UALR in the same lab I had been working in. I can still remember getting the acceptance email from INBRE – I was elated – but as I read further in the email I realized I had been placed in a lab at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. I was terrified. The lab that I was to work in was Dr. Grover Miller’s lab, studying inhibition of the enzyme cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1). I had selected the Miller lab as my top choice at UAMS because he mentioned “kinetics” in the abstract and at the time, I had just learned about simple reaction kinetics in my General Chemistry II class. Entering the Miller lab, I really had no prior bench research experience, no knowledge of enzymes, and no experience with even simple naming conventions of chemicals. I complained to my family during my first week in the lab that I would never learn how to use a multi-channel pipette properly. However, I did learn, and I fell in love with the research.
That first summer, I investigated how metabolites from an important pollutant in cigarette smoke and diesel exhaust, a chemical called 1,3-butadiene, can inhibit the enzyme that metabolizes butadiene, CYP2E1. My work from that summer resulted in a first-author publication and jumpstarted my path to where I am today. I didn’t know any Ph.D. scientists growing up (except for Ross Gellar on Friends) and going into the INBRE program, I really didn’t know that a Ph.D. was even an option for me. Ultimately, my summer research experience made me realize that I wanted to be in a career like Dr. Miller’s, and set me on that path. I continued working in his lab for the rest of my undergraduate career, and when it came time for choosing a graduate school, I was accepted to Duke, Vanderbilt, and UAMS and I chose to stay at UAMS to do my Ph.D. with Dr. Miller, who I already knew was an excellent mentor and brilliant scientist.
During my Ph.D., I was supported by a NSF graduate research fellowship and completed a productive thesis project with 15 papers (nine first-author). I went on to do a postdoc at Duke University in the Nicholas School of the Environment with Dr. Joel Meyer, where I was awarded a F32 NRSA Award from NIEHS to expand beyond the biochemistry of CYP2E1 and to look at its effect on the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria. During my postdoc, I started a side project to study the effects of physical exercise on the mitochondria, and successfully applied for and was awarded a K99/R00 Transition to Independence Award from NIEHS to continue that work into my faculty position.
So now I have started my own lab in the wild year of 2020, amidst a pandemic, and moved to the sunny and beautiful city of Charleston. Since our official beginning in October, I have recruited an incredible technician and we hope to have some Ph.D. students and undergraduates joining the group soon. I have come full circle, and now I have the chance to do what INBRE and Dr. Miller did for me – change someone’s life. We are recruiting (shameless plug), so please pass along our info to anyone you know who is looking for an exciting lab to work in. http://www.thehartmanlab.org