Cory Johnson, Ph.D. — GSBSE Graduating Student Spotlight

Cory Johnson, Ph.D. student at the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering finished the Program in Sept 2022, and participated in Commencement in May 2023. Cory shares his thoughts and experiences after the completing the program below:

How has GSBSE helped you develop into the research scientist or engineer that you are today?
GSBSE was essential to my growth as a scientist. Not only did GSBSE give me the chance to prove to myself I was capable of anything, the program also provided outside perspectives from researchers at other institutions (in Maine and beyond) that helped me understand the many career paths available to me post-graduation. Additionally, the network available here in Maine through GSBSE is invaluable for those who are looking for postdoctoral positions (academia or industry) in Maine and beyond.

How would you describe the GSBSE community and how has it impacted your success?
The GSBSE community is a close group of young investigators that are surrounded by world class faculty. The students are not only highly intelligent but are also caring and helpful when needed. The GSBSE community makes the program as great as it is and we only seem to be attracting more talented and kind individuals to the program.

Can you explain any challenge that you had to work hard to overcome so it would not become a barrier to your success?
Before graduate school I was not as confident in my abilities nor my intellectual capacity and in the beginning of graduate school I frequently had anxiety attacks and developed anxiety-induced insomnia due to impostor syndrome. This was incredibly challenging to deal with and I felt like I was alone. At one point, I felt so anxious that I was unsure if I wanted to continue graduate school and considered leaving the program. Thankfully, I spoke to some of my peers in the program and some of the GSBSE administration about these issues. I was able to get support from my peers, mentors, GSBSE, and a psychologist that has led me to not only successful completion of graduate school but also significant motivation and confidence to pursue an academic career. This would not have been possible without the amazing GSBSE community. (if you want to know more I’m happy to provide more information upon request)

Did you implement any self care practices that helped to keep going forward in the program?
I have always been physically active, but during graduate school I implemented a more regimented fitness program and made time for meditation and family activities. I also made sure to take at least one 24hr block where I did not do work (most of the time) and I made sure to take some vacation time every year and did not work during those vacations.

What advice would you give your younger self or other young scientists if they are interested in our PhD program, but are not sure about applying?
Life is short, do the things that bring you joy. If doing science brings you joy, keep doing it. Be mindful that graduate school, especially a PhD is challenging and you will face many obstacles throughout your scientific journey. That said, GSBSE is an incredible community. Not only will you be supported by your peers, but the faculty are kind, caring, and insightful. They will help you navigate the challenges you will inevitably face on your journey. If you are going to do a PhD, do it with people that care about you. GSBSErs of past and present care about you and your success, which is why I believe GSBSE is the best doctoral program for the biomedical sciences.

Who has supported you most while you have been been working towards your PhD?
My partner and parents.

Can you share any unique or unexpected positive take away(s) from this experience that you may not have expected?
Small (some may say atomic) changes and actions accumulate to massive changes and progress. Do a little every day and one day you will be surprised at how much you’ve accomplished.

What are the next steps in your career development?
I am building on the skills that I gained in graduate school as a postdoctoral researcher at MDI Biological Laboratory in the Haller Lab. Here I plan to test my bench skills, build my writing and communication skills. This way I can effectively publish my work and write grants to help me fund my future work.

Looking further ahead, what are your bigger research scientist or engineer goals that you will be working to achieve?
I am working on developing vascularized kidney organoids (kidney-like tissues grown in culture) using human stem cells. Beyond the interesting cellular questions that I plan to investigate, I hope to contribute to the development of transplantable kidney tissue grown without the burden of a human donor. This way, we can provide inexpensive treatments and/or kidney replacement therapy to those who need it and to ameliorate the need for human donors.

Check out Cory’s bio for more info and contact info.