Biophysical Society Bulletin | July/August 2018
Biophysicist in Profile
“The most rewarding and challenging aspect of my work is mentoring,” she shares. “I enjoy helping people realize their vi- sion of what they want to be and giving them the opportunity to find themselves. I take great pride at the amazing careers and experiences my trainees go on to do.” Alison Dewald , Associate Professor of Chemistry at Salisbury University and one of her first PhD students, shares the influ- ence Columbus has had on her career. “Linda is exceptionally generous with her talents. She was an incredible mentor to me as a graduate student, and has continued to support and advise me throughout my early career. I was recently awarded tenure and promoted to associate professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. This is my dream job, and I owe so much of it to Linda’s mentorship and example,” she explains.
he says. “Linda has been and continues to be extremely sup- portive in my research and career. She pays forward with her time and effort. She has always taken an interest in my career and projects, starting from when I was in her lab to present.” As her career has gone on, Columbus has found greater challenge in its secondary aspects than in the science itself. “The biggest challenge is the culture in the different sciences in terms of gender and scientific focus. I have been accused of ‘selling out’ by becoming more biologically focused. I have been asked what ‘hat’ I wear so that I could be classified as a chemist, biochemist, biomedical researcher, or something else,” she explains. “I have been the only woman in a room and I have had numerous campus visits in which I only met with men.” This can feel very alienating, as she explains, “All of these experiences can make me feel like an outsider, different, or excluded. I face these experiences as opportunities to have discussions about the differences I notice without attack- ing an individual. I am usually encouraged by the responses and discussions and find that many people want to increase representation and diversity, but lack tools or opportunities to make changes.”
Columbus with her husband, Cameron Mura, and son Calvin.
“I became a mother my last year of graduate school. Our uni- versity didn’t have much of a policy for this, but Linda ensured that I was supported with maternity leave and flexibility— she did the same when another student became a father,” Dewald shares. “When I returned to work, she made sure that I (and all future new moms) had a dedicated, private place to pump milk – this hadn’t previously existed in our building. I am grateful for her generosity and support during that time and will be for my entire life; I try to pay it forward when my students have life circumstances.” Another of Columbus’s former graduate students, Brett Kroncke is now a postdoctoral fellow Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), and will be starting a tenure-track faculty position at VUMC in the new year. He remembers her influence on him as he began his career. “As my PhD advisor, Linda taught me many things — some technical and some not. It’s hard for me to estimate exactly how important the technical wet lab skills have been, since I rely on them heavily in the experimental side of my research. Linda also insisted on imagining the impact of my project as far into the future as is possible, motivating my research from a big picture potential,”
Columbus with her lab. From left to right, front row: Katie Ahn, Nicole Swope, Linda Columbus. Next row: Jason Kuhn, Tracy Caldwell, Jennifer Martin. Back row: Katherine Lake, Steven Keller, Marissa Kieber
Columbus advises those just starting out in biophysics to find what they are passionate about and what will keep them motivated, then keep digging. “Always keep asking yourself questions about your data and perspectives in order to dig deeper,” she says. “Don’t report the data chronologically. Ana- lyze data, look at data from different perspectives, and stitch all the data together to tell a story.” “Linda used to say that if her academic biophysics career didn’t work out, she and her mom would be contestants on The Amazing Race ,” Dewald says. “Of course she is so success- ful in her career, but I also think that they could have won the race.”
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