Beyond the lab: Graduate student Jamie Endicott appointed to journal board

When most people think of scientists, they think of a person in a white coat peering at a petri dish in a lab. Although conducting experiments is a big (and vital!) part of the job, there are a host of other responsibilities that go beyond the bench. One example is serving on the editorial boards of scientific journals. These critical publications are the vehicles that share discoveries with the world, while also ensuring that the research is sound. Journals are directed by an editorial board that comprises established experts in the field.

Earlier this year, Van Andel Institute Graduate School Ph.D. candidate Jamie Endicott was appointed to the editorial board of the journal Epigenomics, a major and rare achievement for an early career researcher.

Endicott is a fifth-year graduate student in the lab of VAI’s Dr. Peter W. Laird, where she studies how the regulation of the genetic code — our DNA — changes with age. This process has massive implications for health and disease. VAI Voice caught up with Endicott to chat about her research and why including researchers at all career stages on editorial boards is important.

What do you study?
JE: I study epigenetics, which are factors that regulate how and when the genetic instructions in our DNA are used. As such, epigenetics is very important in the proper functioning of cells and tissues. One important aspect of epigenetics is called DNA methylation, which is a type of chemical tagging that helps determine when specific instructions in DNA should be used or not used. Put another way, methylation acts like an ‘on/off’ switch for our genes. It also helps maintain the structural integrity of our tightly packed DNA when it is not in use.

Specifically, I study patterns of DNA methylation that emerge during aging and disease. I’m currently looking at peculiar regions that progressively lose methylation because they are poorly maintained each time DNA is replicated. It’s kind of like how telomeres shorten as cells divide, only easier to measure and much more consistent (NOTE: Read more about telomeres and their relationship to aging here). In addition to being a powerful measure of cellular replicative history, the methylation loss potentially has major implications for our cellular health as we age.

What are your career goals?
JE: After my thesis defense, I’m joining Dr. Morgan Levine’s laboratory at Altos Labs in San Diego. There, I’ll continue to study DNA methylation changes in aging and disease. I would love to see the models I’ve developed be implemented experimentally and, someday, in the clinic.

What’s your favorite thing about science and being a scientist?
JE: The creative freedom and the continual learning from other scientists.

What do you think people should know about epigenetics and its importance?
JE: We’re just scraping the surface of what we know about epigenetics, which is terrifically exciting! Particularly in aging research, epigenetic ‘clocks’ have huge promise in evaluating disease treatments and understanding what drives cellular aging. If we understand aging better and track it using easily implemented clocks, we can improve health at every age.

What will you do as part of the board?
JE: I’ll be advising reviewers on content pertaining to areas I study (epigenetic clocks, DNA methylation, etc.). I’ll also suggest content to the editor.

What does the appointment mean to you, especially as a grad student?
JE: This is a step toward serving in a fuller capacity on editorial boards.

Why is it important for early career scientists to have a voice on editorial boards?
JE: If a journal wants to stay relevant, particularly in the burgeoning field of epigenetics, reflecting the voices of researchers at different career stages is critical.

Learn more about Van Andel Institute Graduate School here