Interview with Jennifer Koblinski

Interview with Jennifer Koblinski

Jennifer is the Director of Cancer Mouse Models Core Laboratory and an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.  

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?     

I grew up in a small town called Fenton, Michigan. It’s about 20 minutes south of Flint, Michigan, which of course, everyone knows now, especially because of the water crisis. For my undergraduate degree, I went to the University of Michigan, the Flint campus. I then went to grad school and got my Ph.D. at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. I did my postdoctorate at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.  

What sparked your interest in Science?

Since I was a kid I’ve always been interested in the way things work. My mom’s a nurse and my dad’s a carpenter so between the two of them I learned to love building things and learn the way things work. Around maybe third grade or fifth-grade I won second prize in the science fair. Our microwave had broken and my dad helped me turn it into a dehydrator using solar energy. I guess I was always intrigued with how things worked in the body and my parents just encouraged it.

Did you have any specific role models? If so, who were they?

When I applied to grad school and was interviewing, one of the professors asked me what made me want to do this. I told them that I was just interested in medicine, but I didn’t want to be an MD because I had been very interested in being a Marine biologist. My family was big on the outdoors. My dad’s a hunter too so I was really interested in animals and I had read a really cool book about whales when I was younger so I wanted to be a Marine biologist.

Then I went to the University of South Florida for one year and was riding my bike around the cancer center, Moffitt, when I realized that I probably didn’t want to be a Marine biologist. I wanted to do something to help people but I didn’t feel like I had the emotional capacity to be an MD because I didn’t think I was really interested in cancer. I guess I really was interested in cancer, but didn’t think I could emotionally handle talking to patients with cancer. A counselor suggested I look into pharmacology and make drugs to help people. One of my best friends who I grew up with and also went to undergrad with was applying to pharmacology schools and I thought “this would be great, you should do this.” We didn’t apply to the same schools, because she was interested in heart disease, but I started to look at cancer biology programs. There were three programs in the nation that had that at the time which is how I ended up at Wayne State because they had this integrated cancer biology program that went across pharmacology.

I didn’t really have a specific role model. I would just say wanting to help people probably came from both of my parents and my mom being a nurse. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to be a nurse because I didn’t feel like she was treated well as a nurse and that’s changed right over the years. It was really interesting though.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in science or specifically oncology? 

As a young person considering a career in science, I would say to make sure you’re really passionate about it and to try and do some volunteer work or an internship in labs to understand what the life is really like and what you would want to do with a career in science. If you’re considering it make sure you talk to people with different degrees, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhDs and find out what they did with their degrees. Talk to people in the industry, talk to people in academia, and make sure you understand what it is, but definitely be passionate about it.

What is important to you personally? I.e.what things do you value most in life? 

What’s important to me personally is that I’m doing something that is going to help other people. I have this little thing right now where I live to serve others. This is a reminder for myself, but I need to also serve myself. I want to do work with meaning so as this core Director now of cancer mouse models it’s been so successful because I love helping other people and learning what they’re doing, and making sure this is going to make a difference to the patient. What I value most is making sure that I’m helping others and my hope is that it will make a difference.

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that you feel have helped you become the successful person you are?  

Like anybody in their career, my challenge is integrating my personal and family life with my professional life. How does it make me a better successful scientist? I guess in trying to achieve that integration better it helps me try to be more efficient and empathetic to my colleagues

What did you think when you first saw Studylog? 

I was super excited. I like anything that can help make our work more efficient, more reproducible, and maintains data integrity.

How has Studylog impacted you or your team?    

It helped us be more efficient and increased our accuracy. It allows us to record details and track the study. It’s allowed us to be able to do things individually instead of having one person measuring and then telling the other one to make sure that there wasn’t any inaccuracies. It’s allowed us to have one person. I would say it saved us at least a part-time or full-time personnel or even 20 to 40 hours a week. It’s saving us personnel costs. It allows people to work more independently, allows them to be more confident in their results, make sure that everything is recorded with accuracy, efficiency, and all the details are recorded.

What would you say to people who prefer to use Excel because it is free?

I would say that you’re setting yourself up for errors to occur. A very common thing that can happen is transposing numbers and entering things into the wrong space. We’ve all seen it, just typing the numbers back in or hand-writing them down. There’s plenty of places for errors so I think that the cost of how much animals cost to do an experiment is worth the price of Studylog to not have those errors.

What is your favorite Studylog feature?

The protocol detail, randomization, and the reports. It also really allows us to have easy IACUC inspection for the person who comes in and they love this because we have all these reports and they can look through it very easily which is part of that protocol detail.

What do you do for fun when you’re not curing cancer? 

I try to do anything outdoors so bike riding, running, going for walks with the family, and if it’s a rainy day we like to play games and do puzzles. 



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