Interview with Jennifer Koblinski

October 7, 2021
Yasmina Ibsen

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. I obtained my Bachelor’s of Science from the University of Michigan-Flint. I then went to graduate school and received my Ph.D. at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan working with Bonnie Sloane. I did my postdoctoral work with Hynda Kleinman at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the National Institutes of Health.  

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 learning 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, however, I did want to help people. I didn't really have a specific role model or mentor in science. I would just say wanting to help people probably came from both of my parents and my mom being a nurse. However, I didn’t want to be a nurse because I didn't feel like she was treated well professionally. Although, the nursing profession has changed over the years.

But what led me to cancer research was interesting. My family is very involved in outdoor activities. 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 Moffitt Cancer Center when I realized that I probably didn't want to be a Marine biologist. I wanted to do something to help people with cancer but I didn't feel like I had the emotional ability to be an MD and tell a person they had 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, I should do this too.” 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 at the time which is how I ended up at Wayne State because they had this integrated cancer biology program that went across many departments. I did end up in the Department of Pharmacology.

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 life is really like as a scientist. Think about 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 they do and what their work-life integration is like. Most important is to 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 piece of paper by my computer that I wrote on “I live to serve others.” This is a reminder for myself, but I also wrote that I need to serve myself. I need to integrate my family and work life. I think as Director of the cancer mouse models core, I have been successful in building a strong core because I love helping other people and learning what they're doing. My team is the same way. I hope the work will end up making a difference to the patient.

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 trying to achieve that integration better 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 maintain 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 weren't any inaccuracies. It's allowed us to have one person (collecting data). 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, and makes 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 animal experiments 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. Our IACUC personnel loves Studylog because we have all these reports and they can look through them 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: bike riding, running, going for walks with the family, and if it's a rainy day we like to play games and do puzzles.