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Q & A with Phillip Webster: Friends, Fun, & Grad School

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Posted by: Phillip Webster | Category: Meet The Researcher | Cell Biology, Genetics & Molecular Medicine (CGM) | Cell Biology, Genetics and Molecular Medicine | July 12, 2015

Tell me about yourself. How did you first become interested in science?

Believe it or not I happened to be watching Discovery Channel, back when they actually showed science, when I was around eight or nine years old and they had a few shows on virology and marine biology.

I told my mom I wanted to be a marine biologist (the only person I could remember) and find a way for people to live and breathe underwater by looking at whales and fish (I think I mentioned I was eight). After that, she took me to science museums at Balboa Park in San Diego almost every weekend and later when they would get new exhibits.

Why did you pick your program at UT Health Science Center?

Because I really didn’t want to stay in Albuquerque, but also because I saw that they had a principal investigators (P.I.’s ) in the Cell & Molecular Medicine track (now called the Cell Biology, Genetics, & Molecular Medicine discipline) whose central focus was aging and diseases related to aging. It made it easier so I wasn’t sifting through tons of professors and seeing if I could loosely apply aging to whatever the real topic was.

Tell me about your research. Why are you interested in your research topic? Why is it important?

My research focuses on how mitochondrial function leads to the onset of sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle with age. I’m really into this, because A) we use worms in Dr. Alfred Fisher's lab which are the coolest model I’ve worked with and B) I’ve been interested in mitochondria since I learned about the endosymbiosis events that gave’em to us. Selfishly I want to live like, a ridiculously long amount of time.

The reason this is important is because of all the harmful effects of losing our skeletal muscle. It starts at around 55 years old and we lose about one to two percent per year. You get older, you lose that strength, you’re more prone to falls and the next thing you know you need a life alert, a walker or wheelchair, and a full time nurse; worst case scenario you need constant care in a nursing home.

Actually it gets a bit worse than that, sarcopenia causes an increased risk of diabetes, since you lost one of the major organs responsible for glucose uptake. Diabetes can in turn exacerbate the loss of muscle, making it even worse.

I know you are a member of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development program. What is this program? Why do you like being part of it?

Who told you?! Well it’s a program for entering minority students that funds us for our first year of graduate school and provides resources for career development to increase the amount of diverse people in science. 

I like it because it’s easier to meet people coming in when you’re forced to have meetings with them every week and I’ve gotten some really good friends from it.

How has being part of the IMSD program enriched your graduate school experience?

Friends and such.

Besides school, what do you like to do for fun?

I do like cooking, though I didn’t do a lot of it until me and a few friends met every once and awhile and made meals. Then I realized I needed to get my life together.

Other than that, I am a big movie guy so I go to the cinemas all the time and play A LOT of video games. I really like seeing or playing through narratives, games let me feel more involved and sometimes give me ideas for science. I’m also really into Greek mythology so I read a lot of books on that when I’m not reading other things.

This article is part of the "Meet The Researcher" series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. 

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