Craig Belon left his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., to come to New York Medical College as an M.D./Ph.D. student. He is now engaged in that rigorous dual degree program that combines medical school with a doctoral program in the basic sciences in a concentrated period. When Craig graduates, he will be a physician-scientist, well prepared for a career in academia, medical practice, or a wide variety of biomedical research settings.
Q: Tell us something about your research.
A: I am currently working in the laboratory of David Frick, Ph.D. My research focuses on the hepatitis C virus. Specifically, I work with helicases—enzymes that separate double-stranded DNA and RNA. In that regard, my work could best be classified as enzymology, with a fair amount of overlap with virology, bio- or biophysical-chemistry, and even drug discovery. My goal is to define the mechanics of helicase action, and use that to design inhibitors of the enzyme.
Q: What are you best known for?
A: Most likely, I’m best known among students and faculty for my annual “beer lecture.” A few years ago, the director of the medical microbiology course, Dr. Jan Geliebter, enlisted me to give a supplemental lecture about Saccharomyces Cerevisiae—common brewer’s yeast. Since then it has become an annual event. I like to focus on the fun aspects of fermentation, such as the important role it has played in human civilization, but I also try to sneak in a large amount of science along the way. It is a great way to demonstrate that science, and microbiology in particular, can not only be of great practical importance, but also a lot of fun besides. Recently I was surprised to learn that my professional field, enzymology, ironically derives its name from the study of brewer’s yeast (enzyme means “in yeast”).
Q: What are you proudest of?
A: I’ve recently had a paper accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal BioTechniques—my first. And now I feel like I’m actually on the road to becoming a “real” scientist. The sheer amount of work that goes into something so seemingly simple makes you realize how gifted most scientific authors really are. They make it look so easy.
Q: Name one thing that struck you as you were making your decision to work or study at New York Medical College.
A: This institution’s focus on integrity and responsible conduct, both as physicians and as basic scientists, is admirable. For example, Dr. Matthew Pravetz, the course director for medical gross anatomy, does a wonderful job of emphasizing the importance of dignity and respect in the anatomy lab, extending the theme to the ethical practice of medicine in general. Starting the very first day of class, he sets a sterling example as a caring, responsible professional.
Q: What is your next goal?
A: My short-term goal is simply to graduate in a reasonable amount of time! As a professional goal, I hope to be a practicing surgeon at an academic institution with a heavy focus on teaching, but still finding time to be active in basic science research.
Q: What do you want prospective students to know about New York Medical College?
A: Since the College is a small university offering only advanced biomedical and health degrees, the student body is much smaller than almost anywhere else. This makes it a very tight-knit, friendly community with a large ratio of faculty to students. You are meeting people now that you will continue to associate with personally and professionally for the rest of your life.
Q: What other little-known facts would you like to share?
A: While I was an undergraduate at US Santa Barbara, I was a researcher in a chemistry lab, and moonlighted as a radio DJ at the campus radio station. After graduation I worked as a research chemist for about a year before moving to New York for medical school. Even though I only lived in Santa Barbara a few years, I consider it my home.