Wednesday, October 11, 2023

For fourth-year doctoral student Rose Gogal, moving across the country in pursuit of opportunities is nothing new.

Rose Gogal
Rose Gogal, a graduate researcher in the Computational Biomolecular Engineering Lab (photo by Cale Stelken).

After completing her undergraduate work at Pennsylvania State University in May 2020, she moved to Iowa City the following August at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gogal’s interest in computational biomedical engineering programs led her to apply to the UI. This interest was a match for the work of the Computational Biomolecular Engineering Lab, directed by Michael Schnieders, PhD. Schnieders was working alongside researchers in Austin, Texas, at the time, but he and Gogal were able to meet over Zoom.

Schnieders’s explanation of his work, the opportunity to do something different from what she’d planned, and the collaborative nature of his lab were all attractive to Gogal.

“We work with quite a few different people,” says Gogal, who is a graduate student in the Biomedical Engineering Program. “I’ve worked on five or six collaborations with people around the university from physicians to other biochemists to people in the College of Dentistry and have built a lot of really strong relationships along the way.”

The collaborations are not just limited to UI’s campus. This fall, Gogal once again traveled multiple states to study at the University of California San Diego alongside Schnieders. After receiving a faculty development award, Schnieders decided to take a sabbatical semester to conduct research with faculty at UC San Diego. He extended the opportunity to his graduate students; Gogal was the only one who accepted his offer.

 At UC San Diego, she’s been able to collaborate on projects with students from the Gilson Lab and gain feedback on her research. Although it required another cross-country move from the Midwest to the West Coast, Gogal says that the development, the feedback, and the ability to make new connections have been worth the move.

Finding her research passion

The Computational Biomolecular Engineering Lab’s focus is on using computational algorithms to reduce the time and cost of engineering drugs and organic biomaterials. Gogal’s research centers on protein genetics. She’s working to develop algorithms to examine how variants in protein sequences can affect protein folding and binding and how this translates to different diseases across fields of study.

Her thesis specifically will center on variants related to deafness in collaboration with the Molecular Otolaryngology & Renal Research Laboratories (MORL) Clinical Diagnostics Division.

“The overall goal is diagnostics… to find ways that we can add further information for physicians to diagnose variants that are causing the disease, and then be able to come up with patient-specific treatments,” Gogal says.

This fits right into the lab’s complementary goal of developing tools to map genetic information that may lead to more personalized medicine. While Gogal’s research focuses on deafness, she has assisted with other projects in her lab that apply the same foundations to Muscular Dystrophy and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The more you ask, the more you know

Gogal’s work has been recognized both at Iowa and at the national level. In July 2021, Gogal  was awarded an NIH Predoctoral Fellowship through the Center for Biocatalysis and  Bioprocessing. In March 2022, Gogal was awarded honorable mention honors for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). She worked with Graduate College staff member Elizabeth Savelkoul on her application.

Although she did not receive the GRFP fellowship, the process taught her a lot about grant writing and how to incorporate feedback on her writing both of which will prepare her for the F31 NIH Fellowship she is applying for this winter.

For Gogal, the people around her have been her biggest supporters. Aside from her family and Dr. Schnieders, Gogal specifically mentions Mallory Tollefson, a former graduate student in the Computational and Biomolecular Lab, as being one of her biggest supporters. Tollefson was  the person who encouraged Gogal to apply for the NIH Predoctoral Fellowship and the  National Science Foundation’s GRFP.

 As she nears the end of her graduate studies, Gogal reflects fondly on her journey. Her advice  to incoming graduate students is to ask more questions and not be afraid  to admit when they do not know something.

“Just being confident enough to say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, and I want to understand’ has been the best thing that I’ve done for myself in grad school,” she says.