David McKellar, Ph.D. Student

David McKellar, Ph.D. Student

Hometown: Atlanta, GA
BME Degree Program: PhD
Lab affiliation/Adviser:  Cosgrove Lab & De Vlaminck Lab 

Why Cornell?
I came to Cornell because of its research reputation (former home to McClintock, Feynman, Bethe, and so many others) and its progressive educational ethos. Cornell values academic flexibility, which means that I can spend more time in the lab without the restrictions of required coursework. 

Why BME?
After finishing my undergraduate coursework in biomedical engineering, I went to the NIH and worked in a more traditional stem cell biology lab. For my Ph.D., I wanted to work in a field which could support both of these interests--one that values basic biology just as much as quantitative rigor. 

David McKellar and Ben Grodner at Treman Park
David McKellar (left) and labmate Ben Grodner on a trail run at Treman Park.

What is your research focus and why is it important?
My research focus is on understanding how muscle regenerates after injury. We are developing new assays and computational tools to study gene expression at single-cell resolution. These tools can help us to dissect the molecular networks that guide muscle stem cells to generate new tissue. We think these mechanisms can be used to design stem cell therapies that could treat traumatic injuries or muscle degeneration in aging patients. 

What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?
Cornell BME is a tight-knit community, which I think is really important to building collaborations. Casually talking about new ideas or recent experiments is a huge part of how I do science. I have really enjoyed being able to brainstorm over beers at a happy hour, or on a trail run with labmates. 

Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
I am an obsessive music fan and through the pandemic I have kept a guitar next to my desk at all times. Every day I try to move a little closer to one day being able to claim the title of “well-read”. Since coming to Ithaca I have also really come to enjoy trail running.

David McKellar, Ben Grodner, and Mansur Zhussupbekov on porch with guitars.
The mostly BME band "Bagelomics" at Porchfest (pre-COVID) in 2019. From left: David McKellar, Ben Grodner, and Mansur Zhussupbekov.

What advice might you give other students considering Cornell or BME?
When looking for an institution to study at, find a place that values people more than their CVs. At Cornell, I feel like a member of a community and not a statistic for their program ranking. Find a department whose values align with yours.

What’s the next step for you?
I am pursuing a career in research, with the goal of using genomics technologies to engineer cellular therapies. That probably means a career in academia, although as the research world drifts toward better integration with industry and governmental institutions, I hope that path will diverge from a traditional tenure-track position.

Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
Lise Meitner was a physicist who discovered nuclear fission. She worked in a time when many institutions would not hire women, let alone pay them a fair wage. In 1923, her mother sent weekly care packages, as she worried about Meitner’s ability to financially support herself through German post-WW1 hyperinflation. Meitner’s response was “You shouldn’t send so much. I still have coffee, which I drink on Sundays…” She persevered against men who discounted her genius, through political and economic insanity, and did so with humility.

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