Dr. Armand Brown is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He graduated with a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014.
When did you first become interested in science?
I have always been interested in science. Growing up, I aspired to become a paleontologist since I loved studying all things related to dinosaurs. After some nice experiences with my pediatric dentist, I decided that I wanted to become a dentist as well. This interest changed once I had the opportunity to see the movie “Outbreak.” Afterwards I was convinced that I wanted to someday work in the field of infectious diseases either as a physician or scientist.
Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
I selected The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for two main reasons. At the time, I wanted to conduct my graduate research in a BSL-4 laboratory, and I knew that I would have that opportunity by attending UT Health San Antonio because of their partnership with Texas Biomedical Research Institute. The second reason I chose UT Health San Antonio was because of my interactions with Dr. Nicquet Blake as an undergraduate. I was hoping to find a graduate program where I would be supported both inside and outside of the laboratory. Dr. Blake was absolutely amazing from the first day I met her as a young naive undergrad. It was apparent that she was not only passionate about her job but truly cared about the success of all UT Health San Antonio graduate students. Especially those from underrepresented backgrounds such asmyself.
As a student who majored in microbiology as an undergraduate, I knew that I wanted to continue that education in graduate school. So, choosing Microbiology & Immunology for my dissertation studies was an easy decision.
Tell me more about your career path.
Following multiple rotations in virology, and cancer laboratories, I decided to join the laboratory of Dr. Carlos Orihuela who is a leading bacteriologist in the Streptococcus pneumoniae field. As a result of my research, I discovered that S. pneumoniae migrates to the heart where it causes tissue damage leading to disrupted contractility and other detrimental effects on the heart during severe pneumonia. Following graduation, I moved to New York City where I was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Medical Center in the Department of Pharmacology, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. While at Columbia, my work was focused on studying persistent skin and bone infections by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. After a year, I returned back to Texas and began my second postdoctoral fellowship position at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Tell me about your current career, what do you do?
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow examining disulfide bond formation in the bacterium Enterococcus faecalis. We have discovered that E. faecalis produces a peptide known as EntV that suppresses Candida albicans (a Fungus) pathogenicity. In addition, we also identified a protein (known as DsbA) that is predicted to be involved in the modulation of oxidative protein folding. Thus, we believe that DsbA is not only required for the stability of EntV but may also be required for the stability of other proteins involved in E. faecalis pathogenicity. By understanding the post-translational processing of EntV, we will be equipped with the tools needed to develop EntV as potential therapy against fungal infections.
Furthermore, by understanding the role of DsbA, we may uncover potential targets for future therapeutics aimed at treating Enterococcal infections. Importantly, both Fluconazole-resistant Candida, and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus are listed by the CDC as serious public health threats.
What is a day like in your job?
During a typical day, I spend most of my time conducting research on multiple projects (both personal and for collaborators). In addition, I attend career development seminars and meetings, present my research in internal and external meetings, and also spend time writing (grants and manuscripts).
How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
Everything I learned at UT Health San Antonio is directly relevant to the work I do now. As a postdoc, you are expected to be a lot more independent in your career. However, there isn’t always someone there to assist you through certain activities or challenges. Thus, I am constantly drawing from prior experiences in graduate school to guide me.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my work is the process of building an independent career from the ground up. As a postdoc, it’s not enough to produce great research. You have to spend a lot of time writing (grants and manuscripts), lecturing, networking as much as possible, and being political. This has been the most exhausting aspect of academia for me.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Whenever possible, I try to mentor or speak with other underrepresented individuals (primarily graduate students, and postdocs) pursuing careers in science. I also conduct science outreach events at local elementary, middle, and high schools with students interested in careers in science. It has been eye opening to discover that some people see me as their inspiration. It’s nice to know you are changing the world one person at a time simply by serving as an excellent example for others to follow.
What has been your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement was discovering a new pathology created by the bacterium S. pneumoniae and showing that we could prevent it through vaccination.
What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
I would say to stay be positive, work hard, never quit, and always remain open to learning something new or taking advantages of new opportunities that might come your way.
What do you like to do outside of work?
My wife and I recently had our first child, so I enjoy spending time with them whenever I can. Other than friends and family, I enjoy video games, movies, trying new foods, and love almost any recreational outdoor activity. Especially running, biking, hiking, fishing, and hanging out at the beach.
Have a question for Armand? Ask him at www.gsbsalumni.com.