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Boomer ’96 Wins Prestigious Immunology Post-Doc Fellowship

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2001 edition of Keuka Magazine:

Jon Boomer ’96 has an e-mail address that contains the words “lab rat.” So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Boomer, who graduated from Keuka with a degree in medical technology, as well as minors in biology and chemistry, has a love for science.

“I’ve loved science my entire life,” he said, adding, however, “it’s never been easy for me. I work very hard for what I get.”

Boomer has recently been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., where he will be working with mice to conduct research in immunology.

He has completed the work necessary for his Ph.D. in microbiology/ immunology from Finch University of Health Science/ The Chicago Medical School in North Chicago, Ill., and
successfully defended his dissertation. He will be formally granted his Ph.D. diploma following the university’s commencement in the spring.

At Finch, Boomcr said, he was studying T cells in humans, but at the NIH, he will be able to do more experimentation with gene manipulation, because of the use of mice.
“I love immunology,” said Boomer, who plans one day to head his own research lab, studying T cell activation and apoptosis – or how cells become active and how they die. Such research could shed new light on most diseases, he said, including “anything and everything you can think of.”

Most diseases, Boomer said, involve natural biological processes gone haywire.
“In different disease states, Lactivation and apoptosis either increases or decreases,” he explained.
Working at the NIH is “like working for the best of the best,” Boomer said. “Some of the best scientists in the world work there or collaborate through there,” he said, adding that Nobel laureates give lectures that are open to the entire NIH community.

The NIH is “government-run, so the funding is there,” Boomer said. “They have great facilities. If you’re looking to do science, it’s one of the best places you can go.”
Competition for such a prestigious fellowship is typically fierce, Boomer said, but in his case, his interests, skills, and background were a good match for the position.

“Here at Finch,” he said, ” I work independently, so 1 can troubleshoot on my own,” he said, adding that he also had knowledge of how to work with two different flow cytometers, which the NIH considered a valuable skill.

In science, Boomer said, there are so many different machines used for specific scientific functions that no one scientist can know how to operate them all. Because of that, “you form collaborations with different people who know all these different techniques.”

At the NIH, in exchange for his knowledge of flow cytometry, Boomer said he’ll be gaining knowledge of molecular biology.  While working as a postdoctoral fellow, he said, “your job is to learn as much as you can and get published as much as you can.” Scientists who have earned their Ph.D. generally complete at least two postdoctoral fellowships lasting three to five years apiece before obtaining a teaching or research position at a university.

On the other hand, those scientists who decide to work in industry after receiving their doctorate are able to advance more quickly and make significantly more money.

“If you don’t love [science], you’re not going to make it in this field,” Boomer said, adding
that he prefers to search for answers to questions of “basic science” or “what makes the world go around” rather than to perform the specific tasks required by industry.

As a medical technology major at Keuka, Boomer spent three years on the Keuka campus, followed by a one-year medical rotation at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where he completed the clinical requirements for certification by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). He then successfully passed the ASCP certification exam. The medical technology degree typically prepares a student to become a clinical laboratory scientist in a hospital, Boomer said. In his case, “it allows me to work with a lot of diseases and draw my
own blood.”

While a student at Keuka, Boomer was also a goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team and held a work-study job at the same time. Balancing classwork with athletics was a “big pain in the butt,” he said, but a quality education is a product of the time and effort invested in it. “What you want to get out, you put into it.”

At Keuka, “I learned mostly about understanding science at a fundamental level,” Boomer said, adding that the coursework was “great.”

Boomer said his classes with Professor of Biology Joan Magnusen, Professor of Chemistry Gary Hickernell, Associate Professor of Biology Marianne Jahnke and Professor of Chemistry Thomas Carroll were all equally beneficial.

“Those interactions were indispensable,” he said. Another plus was the experience he gained in giving presentations. “Learning how to speak at Keuka was one of the best things I ever did.”

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