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Tuesday
Aug132013

Smashing atoms and taking pictures: my experiences at the Martinos Center Radiopharmacy.

I’m Chris Moseley and I am a former radiopharmacy technician and founding member of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging PET production facility. I joined MGH in 2011, just prior to the tracer facility becoming operational. Like many fresh college graduates (or students for that matter) I had few, if any, appreciable skills. But I did have an expensive piece of paper and a dream to build something more for my future self. I contacted Dr. Jacob Hooker looking for a position in his lab and was pleasantly surprised to get a response. Despite him freely agreeing to the aforementioned assessment of my utility, he conceded to my enthusiasm and determination and offered me a job. Two years later I had written and coauthored over half a dozen publications including a first authorship for a chapter in a textbook, worked with some of the world's finest physicians and scientists, and realized my wish to enter medical school. The following is an account of what life was like for me at the radiopharmacy and of what Dr. Hooker was able to do for me as an employer, mentor, and person.

I was ecstatic to join the juggernaut collaboration between Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Martinos Center has an abundance of material and intellectual resources, uniting to create an environment that fosters innovation and makes definitive progress. Whereas I had been accustomed to associating labs with mediocre equipment repurposed until it became more duct tape than machine, I now worked in a facility outfitted with cutting edge and occasionally "prototype stage" technology. On any given day I operated a particle accelerator, chemical synthesis machinery, a full quality control lab, and blood analysis robot. Using these tools, I was able to participate in the development of novel molecules. It was remarkable to watch the evolution of a compound synthesized by Dr. Hooker's chemists as it developed from cold to "hot" chemistry and to the eventual injection into a living organism. I cannot emphasize enough the uniqueness of this opportunity. I was literally offered a chance to take part in every piece of the research effort including drug development, equipment engineering, imaging analysis, pharmacokinetic modeling, and more things I can't recall. Leading me in each of these ventures were some of the most gifted and world renowned scientists in fields including chemistry, biology, neuroscience, radiology/imaging, engineering, biophysics, computational sciences, and so on. Furthermore, I was encouraged to propose my own research projects, with the full resources of the center at my disposal.

Despite the fantastic research environment my ultimate goal was to attend medical school. Having unsuccessfully applied to medical school in the past, Jacob helped me to formulate and execute a plan to improve my application and put me in touch with prominent physicians. It was a boon to interface with physician scientists, of which MGH has no short supply. I began a project with a neuro-oncologist to assess treatment outcomes for malignant brain tumors by using a radioactive form of a 'standard-of-care' chemotherapeutic. For my part in this collaboration, I was tasked with producing the radioactive compound, which was no trivial matter. Along with the very talented post-docs in Dr. Hooker's lab, I improved the synthesis of this drug, and I wrote my first publication as a first author. As an added bonus, I was able to shadow the neuro-oncologist in the clinic, where I met fascinating patients and learned a tremendous amount about people coping with terminal diseases. Professionally, this meant I could add another letter of recommendation to my application package as well as plenty to write about for my admissions essays. Personally, I was able to experience medicine in a fashion that I had been otherwise unable to explore and ultimately this understanding galvanized my desire to become a physician. I believe this was apparent during my medical school interviews, when I recounted these events, and was instrumental to me gaining acceptance to multiple medical colleges and tens of thousands in scholarships.

To give a fair warning to those interested in attaining a graduate education, the fun doesn't stop once medical school starts. In the first week students are coached on how to prepare for the next step in medical training, residency – a placement that is four years away. However, the exposure to medicine I gained at MGH has already given me an idea of the specialties that I wish to pursue and so I am able to join interest groups and begin networking to advance my career. My research experiences have already opened up a few doors regarding interning at summer programs for medical students to supplement their resume with additional research projects. On a day to day basis, the skills I learned during my time at MGH have been extremely useful during medical school. My experience in an academic hospital has prepared me for the medical school environment as there is an interlacing of academic work and patient care during all hours. Furthermore, I find that some assignments are easier as I am used to rapidly acquiring and digesting scientific literature. However, I am most amused at how the little abilities that you acquire become surprisingly beneficial later in life. Attending the Hookerlab presentations has made me a Microsoft office pro and I've already been nominated as a tech whiz in my problem based learning group. Working at the Martinos Center has benefitted my medical education in more ways than I could have imagined.

Finally, I asked myself what it was like to work with Dr. Jacob Hooker and unexpectedly found myself more appreciative than I would have anticipated. He has helped several of my colleagues to achieve their goals of graduate school, medical school, and professional placement. It is apparent to everyone in the field that he is the rare type of primary investigator; a rising star in science that constantly publishes material, undertakes new studies, wins grants, and builds his research team. However, the following is my honest assessment of my boss for two years. Keep in mind that he is no longer paying me and so I am not obligated in any way to express any of the following. Simply put, Jacob is the only individual that I have ever met and considered to be truly gifted. On top of being renowned as a chemist, I have seen him show unrelenting enthusiasm and proficiency when working in all manner of endeavors including: engineering, mathematics, teaching, speaking, etc... and even athleticism (he has finished multiple Ironman competitions). Yet despite his talents, he is a humble, compassionate, and empathetic man. On numerous occasions, he took significant time from his day to listen to me vent personal matters, always offering me advice and encouragement. I have seen him do the same for several other employees and associates. I admire him professionally, respect him as a person, and I consider it an honor to work alongside him. That being said, good luck to all of the future lab members and associates. I hope you find your time with the Hooker group as rewarding and gratifying as I did.

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