Member Spotlights

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Samantha Morris, PhD

May 7, 2021

Hometown: Bradford, United Kingdom
Current residence: St. Louis, USA
Graduate degree: PhD, Xenopus laevis embryogenesis
Current position: Associate Professor of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Washington University in St. Louis, USA

What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?

My current research focuses on the mechanisms of reprogramming cell identity and how we can engineer relevant cell types for therapeutic application. However, my lab is becoming more interested in how cell identity is established and maintained, bringing my focus back to developmental biology. If we can fully understand how cell identity is normally established, this will help us reprogram cell identity with higher efficiency and fidelity. This goal has taken us into developing experimental and computational single-cell technologies to measure and manipulate cell identity. I find it most rewarding to create these tools and share them with the community.

What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?

I trained as a developmental biologist, studying germ layer formation in Xenopus laevis development. I then switched to lineage tracing (by live imaging, with Magda Zernicka-Goetz) the first cell fate decisions in early mouse development. At that point, I became curious about forcing cells to adopt specific identities - this is when I became interested in reprogramming and joined George Daley's lab.

What is the most exciting aspect of your work?

One of the most exciting aspects for me is developing new techniques and applying them to study cell differentiation and reprogramming. When I was starting my lab in 2015, high-throughput single-cell RNA sequencing was becoming more accessible. We needed to use this technology to study reprogramming as the successful conversion of cells is such a rare event - we need to sequence many, many cells. This, in turn, led us to develop new lineage tracing technologies to pinpoint the origins of successfully reprogrammed cells, along with new computational tools to make better sense of the data we generate.

What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?

Don't be afraid of learning how to code; even a little can help you navigate some of the fantastic analysis tools that are out there (and are frequently accompanied by helpful tutorials) - and don't be afraid of asking people for help with this. I think it's essential to have some understanding of how your data is processed. Conversely, if you don't know how the data is generated, get into the lab and watch the experiments. It's helpful for both sides, wet and dry, to appreciate how to work together most efficiently, and can inform better experimental design.

Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?

Allon Klein and Barbara Treutlein, two incredible quantitative developmental/stem cell biologists. Every preprint or paper from their groups goes straight to the top of the lab reading list!

How do you spend your free time?

Exploring good food and good wine, with a bit of Peloton for balance. Former ISSCR President George Daley is responsible for my keen interest in wine.

What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?

My peers are often surprised when they hear me speak and realize that I'm originally from the UK.

What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?

I value the support from ISSCR to create new communities. For example, with Christine Wells, Patrick Cahan, and Owen Rackham, we recently established a Computational Stem Cell Biology group. ISSCR recently hosted a series of seminars for the group, which we hope will help build a community around the application of computational methods in stem cell biology.

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Careers in Industry

Career talks featured at ISSCR’s VISION2030 event, focused on opportunities for a decade ahead. 

BlueRock Therapeutics | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Timsi Rao, Scientist III, Genome Sciences and Stephany Sakharny, Senior Human Resources Manager of BlueRock Therapeutics.

STEMCELL Technologies | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Christine Genge, Manager, Recruitment and Nina Quiskamp, Scientist of STEMCELL Technologies.

ElevateBio | Career Talks

Panel discussion with Cherylene Plewa, PhD, VP, Cellular Engineering and Austin Thiel, PhD, Director Stem Cell Biology of ElevateBio.

ISSCR 2020 Virtual Videos

Junior Investigator Career Panel

Finding Your Fit: Defining Goals and Taking Action to Achieve Long-term
Success

Moderator: Evan Graham, ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee, CELLINK
Panelists: Heather Duffy, Creative Innovation Consulting, Steve Kattman, Sana Biotechnology, Danijela Menicanin, University of Adelaide, and Itedale Namro Redwan, CELLINK.

Despite how it can sometimes appear, the path to a satisfying career is rarely straightforward. Are you currently asking yourself “How do I decide on a career path?” If so, join us for an in-depth panel discussion about how individual definitions for success and failure can help you identify your goals, adjust to setbacks, determine when it’s time to make a change, and what steps to take now to achieve your long-term goals. This casual event hosted by the Junior Investigator Committee is intended to foster frank conversation about how to assess career decisions early on.

Early Career Group Leader Panel

Re-Defining the Success of Your Lab in Changing Times: Productivity, Motivation and Enrichment

Moderator: Josh Currie, Co-chair, ISSCR Junior Investigators Committee, Wake Forest University
Panelists: Valentina Greco, Yale Stem Cell Center, Yale Medical School, Konrad Hochedlinger, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Joanna Wysocka, Stanford University.

Even prior to lab shutdowns, you might have often been awake at night feeling anxious about the success of your trainees and your projects. With bench research and much of science at a standstill, how can PIs regain perspective and purpose to re-define a thriving lab? This event is organized for early career PIs to learn tools and tips from more senior ISSCR scientists about how to get the most out of your lab. We will address topics such as setting up a strong lab culture from the beginning, enriching the lab experience to make your team the most productive, and recruiting the best people to improve motivation and promote strong research. Additionally, this event is meant to foster conversation about how to support, motivate, and train lab members under these exceptional circumstances. Come join us to learn, share, and discuss different recipes for a successful lab.