Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Penn State Science
You are here: Home Undergraduate Alumni Featured Alumni Michael Stitzel, Ph.D.

Michael Stitzel, Ph.D.

Main Content

Michael Stitzel, Ph.D.My time at Penn State and in the BMB Major laid the critical foundation for the path I’ve taken toward my current position. I work as a senior postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, Francis Collins, where I am developing my own research program to understand (1) how non-protein coding regions of the human genome guide normal gene function in healthy cells and tissues and (2) how genetic differences in these neighborhoods between people contribute to cellular dysfunction and disease, particularly type 2 diabetes.  I have recently secured an NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award funding for the development of this program in the final years of my postdoc and to fund my lab for the first three years as I begin an independent faculty position.  A key criterion for earning this award is a person’s training record, and I count my time in BMB and at PSU as keys to my success.

BMB at Penn State provided the best of both worlds for me during my undergraduate years.  Penn State is a large university with a commitment to undergraduate research, so the resources and opportunities are plentiful—a potential double-edged sword. The BMB major made this potentially overwhelming environment much more intimate and nurturing.

In this major, I benefited from rigorous coursework, close interactions with faculty conducting superb research, and the opportunity to pursue and guide my very own research project in one of these labs. Penn State, with its large and diverse student population, provided plenty of chances to enjoy my other interests, ranging from vocal and instrumental music to racquetball and Penn State Football games.

You must spend time in the lab to know if research is your passion. I worked in Joe Reese’s lab from spring semester of my sophomore year through graduation.  The ability to own and drive an independent research project as an undergraduate student was something that, in retrospect, was a formative experience.  It provided critical steps toward formulating hypotheses and designing, executing, and interpreting experiments to test them. More importantly, though, it taught me how to troubleshoot failed experiments and endure failed hypotheses on the way to discovery.  Ultimately, this experience led to my Honors Thesis and a first author publication in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal.

I’m confident that the early training and support that I received through the BMB Department and the University contributed substantially to where I am today, and where I’m headed. I can trace each step in my career path to my undergraduate roots in BMB at Penn State.

With support from the fantastic staff in the Undergraduate Fellowships Office, I applied for and earned a Fulbright Fellowship to Germany to conduct epigenetic research in the fruit fly. Both my graduate and postdoctoral opportunities emerged through a connection I forged with an Investigator at NIH, who is a Penn State alumnus, and I have lost count of how many people I’ve met during my doctoral training at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and my current postdoctoral training at the National Human Genome Research Institute, a part of the NIH.

At this stage of my career, where I’m seeking a faculty position at universities with exciting research programs in Genomics and Gene Regulation and faculty colleagues with diverse expertise and solid records of productivity, Penn State is squarely in my sights.  It should be in yours, too, as you consider your options for an undergraduate experience and a major that will thoroughly prepare you for an exciting and successful career trajectory in biomedical research.

Michael Stitzel's CV