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Growing Relationships

Relationships are vital in every field of study. Connections to other professionals play a large role in generating new ideas and solving persistent problems. For Dr. Tessa Burch-Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology, these relationships were the most important part of her time as a member of the Science Alliance’s Collaborative Cohort.

Burch-Smith studies intercellular signaling in plants. Her work as a cohort fellow adapted several of the tools from her existing research to study Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) photosynthesis. CAM photosynthesis is performed by plants in the Crassulaceae family, including succulents and other desert dwelling plants that thrive in water stressed environments. Understanding how these plants work is key to the development of hardy, drought resistant crops.

burch-smith-finalFor Burch-Smith, her participation in the Collaborative Cohort program provided an opportunity to work with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists who are part of an international symposium interested in CAM photosynthesis. Collaborating with these professionals on her existing project has given Burch-Smith access to the bioinformatics and gene studies conducted by the symposium and allowed her to become involved with other areas of the CAM project.

Additionally, according to Burch-Smith the interactions between the cohort fellows themselves have been instrumental in her professional development over the last two years as they have shared strategies for lab management, mentoring and publishing as part of their regular meetings.

“The cohort has one member from Chemistry, one from Biology and two engineers. We’ve been able to establish connections outside of our departments that we might not have otherwise made,” said Burch-Smith.

Once her term with the Collaborative Cohort is over, Burch-Smith intends to continue her work with the goal of providing a framework for encouraging CAM photosynthesis in other families of plants.