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MedNeuro student trains at prestigious summer fellowship

This summer has changed the way David Haggerty thinks about science.

Haggerty, a PhD student in the Medical Neuroscience Graduate Program at Stark Neurosciences Research Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine, has spent the summer as one of about two dozen fellows with Flagship Pioneering, a venture capital firm based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts that creates biotechnology, life sciences, health and sustainability companies. Flagship is best known for incubating Moderna, the company that developed one of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Over the course of the 12-week program, fellows rotate on three teams to “speed run” business ideas. They are tasked with developing creative and off-the-wall scientific concepts, all while working directly with Flagship’s team of scientists, entrepreneurs and executives.

“The idea is to get a bunch of really smart people with different backgrounds in the room and focus on a common idea,” Haggerty said. “Being unreasonable around here, coming up with crazy concepts and having people take you seriously is an opportunity you might not get anywhere else.”

Haggerty, one of only a few neuroscience students in the fellowship, collaborates with other graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from other science backgrounds, such as plant biology and immunology, at top universities across the world. At the end of each month, fellows present their idea to the entire Flagship firm—about 250 people.

“You have to think about everything,” Haggerty said. “Not only about science and how it might work and what diseases you want to treat, but budgets on outsourcing experiments, how to open a lab space, how do you hire people, what’s the culture. You’re the CEO.”

The fellowship offers scientists an alternative way to use their degree and expertise apart from academia or industry, Haggerty said, adding the experience has changed the way he will now think about science and problem solving when he returns to his studies at IU in the fall.

Haggerty said he’s been able to share about the opportunities provided to medical neuroscience graduate students at Stark Neurosciences Research Institute to fellows and employees at Flagship. Translational research offered through the Model Organism Development and Evaluation for Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (MODEL-AD) as well as collaborations with Eli Lilly, Haggerty said, gives students a unique experience at IU.

“When I talk about the things we do at our institute, like Alzheimer’s disease or drug abuse research, people are deeply interested,” Haggerty said.

Karmen Yoder, PhD, professor of radiology and imaging services and director of the Medical Neuroscience Graduate Program, said she and the rest of the program’s leadership are extremely proud of Haggerty for being selected for the fellowship, and they hope an opportunity like this could encourage medical neuroscience students to explore other high-level internships.

“David has always been a thought leader among his peers, and it has been clear from the beginning that he intends to be on the cutting edge of scientific innovation and entrepreneurship,” Yoder said. “David’s self-determination and drive make him an excellent role model for students across IU School of Medicine, and his pursuit of this internship really has opened new doors for other students.”

He said the fellowship has shown him possibilities that are unlocked with a doctoral degree.

“It’s a much different muscle than I’m using as a graduate student, but it’s still rooted in the value of academic training and understanding how to solve problems,” Haggerty said. “That’s been the most fun–getting to apply things that I’ve learned in a way that I never thought I could before.”

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Ben Middelkamp

Ben Middelkamp is a communications manager for the Department of Neurology, Department of Neurological Surgery and Stark Neurosciences Research Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine. Before joining the Office of Strategic Communications in December 2019, Ben spent nearly six years as a newspaper reporter in two Indiana cities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Convergent Journalism from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2014. Ben enjoys translating his background in journalism to the communications and marketing needs of the school and its physicians and researchers.