Student Spotlight: Sam Thomas

Sam Thomas (x ’19, Ricke Lab) will defend on 28 August and will then move to a postdoc position in the lab of Joel Pedersen.  He spoke with Rob Lipinski about his MET grad school journey.


Where are you from and what attracted you to the UW MET program? 

I grew up in Wisconsin and studied water resources and chemistry at UW-Stevens Point. I was attracted to the MET program’s notoriety and interdisciplinary nature- from analytical chemistry to molecular biology, across broad areas of research- from environmental remediation to biomedical research.

Describe the focus of your thesis research project.

I’ve been using modern mass spectrometry to study the influence of environmental contaminants on prostatic diseases. I’ve also worked on some basic research regarding noninvasive biomarker discovery and have collaborated on a neat multi-omics analysis of clinical urine samples.

What do you consider as your most interesting or exciting finding to-date?

We have some pretty exciting stuff coming down the pike, but of the work that’s published now, I suppose the most exciting was the demonstration that noninvasive urine proteomics can pick up the signal generated by inflammation in the prostate. We hope this will encourage more research on noninvasive biomarker discovery, both in basic research and potentially in clinical research of prostatic diseases.

What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment or rewarding experience in graduate school? 

It’s hard for me to identify a single most rewarding experience in graduate school, but some candidates would be helping design curriculum for a new university in Sierra Leone with Project 1808, teaching and learning as a TA, having publications accepted, and setting a date for my defense.

What is your favorite outside-of-lab hobby?

I love being in wild places, so anything that gets me out there is fun. It’s always tough to balance life’s commitments, but I’ve found that time spent on the water or in the woods pays dividends toward well-being and is a net positive for productivity and creativity.

Looking back, what advice would you give to a student who is just starting graduate school?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to offer advice, but I guess I have a few thoughts. I think it’s important to find something you’re passionate about, to stay curious and keep a learner’s mindset, and to be pedantic without forgetting the big-picture relevance of your work.

What has been your favorite part of living in Madison?

My favorite part of living in Madison is how easy it is to find things to do after work. Madison has a lot to offer outside of the university- so much so that I’ve never tried to keep up with it all. We have some great restaurants and bars, we get great live music and comedy, we have a ton of parks and waterways, and we aren’t far from wild places.

What are your post-graduation career plans? 

I’m looking for a career in environmental remediation or ecosystem restoration. Right now the first step looks like a neat post-doc opportunity with one of our MET PIs.

Looking back, what is your best memory from graduate school?

This may be me dodging the question, but my best memories from graduate school are of working and traveling with so many brilliant people from all over the world. If I can lump that all into a single memory, then that would be it.