Student Spotlight: Samuel Deck

Samuel Deck

July 17, 2023

Samuel Deck is a doctoral student in biochemistry, molecular, and cell biology from San Diego, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis and now studies structural alterations to GTPases under the guidance of Richard Cerione at Cornell.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

My research focuses on the intricate world of small GTPases, essential proteins that govern cellular processes. These molecular switches are vital for responding to external signals and maintaining cell function. It’s fascinating how even slight structural changes can disrupt their normal signaling and contribute to diseases like cancer. However, our understanding of these structural alterations has been limited to cryo-cooled studies, which may not accurately represent their physiological state. To overcome this limitation, I employ room temperature X-ray crystallography to investigate the structure of KRAS, a well-known oncogenic GTPase, and compare it with existing cryo-cooled structures. This exciting research holds great potential for uncovering valuable insights into KRAS signaling, drug interactions, and ultimately guiding the development of targeted therapies for KRAS-related diseases.

What are the larger implications of this research?

Understanding the structural basis of small GTPases, specifically focusing on oncogenic KRAS, can have far-reaching impacts. KRAS mutations are prevalent in various cancers and are notoriously difficult to target with effective therapies. By unraveling the structural changes associated with oncogenic KRAS, my research can provide crucial insights into the underlying mechanisms of disease development and progression. This knowledge has the potential to revolutionize the design and development of more potent and mutant-specific inhibitors against oncogenic KRAS. Ultimately, this can lead to improved treatment options, increased survival rates, and enhanced quality of life for patients battling KRAS-driven cancers. Also, as small GTPases are involved in numerous cellular processes, the findings from this research could have broader implications for understanding and targeting other diseases beyond cancer, impacting various areas of biomedical research.

What lessons did you take away from participating in the Colman Inclusive Leadership Program and how will they benefit you going forward?

The Colman Inclusive Leadership Program had a profound impact on me, molding my future aspirations as a professor. Among the many valuable lessons I’ve learned, one stands out: the transformative power of empathy and active listening. By truly understanding and embracing diverse perspectives, I’ve discovered that collaboration is enhanced, problem-solving becomes more effective, and a culture of inclusivity can thrive. Moreover, the program emphasized the significance of cultural intelligence, equipping me with the tools and mindset to navigate cross-cultural situations with respect and sensitivity. Armed with these lessons, I am driven to promote positive change, foster inclusivity, and embrace diversity in all areas of my professional and personal life.

Why do you believe it is important to develop leadership skills?

I believe that nurturing leadership skills is essential for personal growth as a leader. It’s through this development that one gains the ability to inspire and motivate others, foster effective communication, and cultivate an environment conducive to growth. While these skills may not come naturally to everyone, they can be learned and honed over time. Effective leaders possess the power to create a positive work culture that boosts productivity and ignites innovation. The impact of developing these skills goes beyond the individual, permeating teams, organizations, and ultimately shaping a brighter future for all. 

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

When I’m not buried in research, you’ll often find me out hiking and exploring nature. There’s just something so special and exciting about being outdoors. And let me tell you about my dog, Alvin! He’s my adorable companion, whom I walk and hike with, and we both help keep each other active.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

The reason I decided to pursue my degree at Cornell University was due to its exceptional resources in the field of structural biology. The university provides state-of-the-art facilities, including an on-campus beamline known as CHESS, which is unparalleled. Also, what truly stood out to me was Cornell’s steadfast dedication to cultivating a rich and diverse academic environment. This commitment resonated with me deeply, as I believe that diverse perspectives foster innovation and excellence. So I knew that by choosing Cornell, I would have the perfect setting to delve into my research and achieve remarkable accomplishments both personally and in my studies.