Research Insights from Dr. Alexander Patananan

Author: Dr. Alexander Patananan

Hi, my name is Dr. Alexander Nikolich Patananan and you may know me as the vice-chair of JYI’s Board of Directors (BoD). However, I am also a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)! My current research involves 1) understanding the multifaceted mechanisms associated with intercellular mitochondrial transfer, 2) developing tools to artificially transfer mitochondria into cells, and 3) elucidating the potential of mitochondrial transfer for therapeutic interventions. To do this, I employ molecular biology, cell biology, and bioengineering (queue lasers *phew phew*) technologies. My ultimate goal is to be a professor in academia…or be an astronaut, whichever comes first! Outside of the lab, I enjoy a variety of activities such as photography, hiking, and especially running (I have completed 3 marathons to date and am always on the lookout for the next one!).

My educational journey was a little unorthodox.  I was homeschooled from the 2nd grade and graduated from high school a year early. I spent a year at Antelope Valley College and obtained an Associate of Science degree in Biological Sciences.  I transferred to UCLA and graduated with a degree in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics in 2008. While an undergraduate, I performed research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for three consecutive summers, in addition to 2 years of researching Drosophila (fruit flies) at UCLA.  After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I joined the Steven Clarke laboratory at UCLA. In 2014 received a Doctoral degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology studying the relationship of protein damage and posttranslational modifications on biological pathways and aging.

How did I first hear about JYI? I actually received a JYI recruitment email that was forward by a professor at UCLA and immediately thought it was a cool idea! I had not thought about science publishing at that point in my life and was intrigued by the challenge and unknown. I first joined as an Associate Editor in the Biological Sciences in 2006 and advanced to the positions of Research Editor (8/2006-7/2008), Senior Research Editor (7/2008-4/2009…I replaced Nafisa Jadavji, the current BoD Chair, in this position!), and Editor-in-Chief (5/2009-6/2010). I took a break from JYI while completing my graduate work studies and rejoined in 2014 as a Board of Directors member.

Although I did the typical assignments associated with the various positions, such as reviewing papers and interacting with authors, I also had the opportunity to work on several amazing projects at JYI. One of the most memorable efforts we undertook was to develop our first-ever virtual poster competition. In collaboration with a conference in India, we received and judged dozens of videos submitted via YouTube of undergraduates presenting their research.  Although it was full of logistical challenges, it was still a fun and rewarding project! In addition, I had the privilege of working with other talented staff members to put together one of JYI’s first ever Best of JYI publications and developed a short-lived offshoot of JYI to help non-native English speakers publish their research, known as SciEdit.

Looking back, JYI has proven to be a cornerstone in my career. Not only did I learn the appropriate components of a scientific research paper, but I also developed the ability to critically review science articles from familiar and unfamiliar science disciplines. Furthermore, anyone who has worked at JYI has probably encountered a frustrating situation with another staff member or author. However, these moments were actually extremely valuable as they taught me how to engage with my peers and diplomatically sort out indifferences. After all, no two people are the same and the ability to see another person’s viewpoint is a valuable thing to learn, especially later on in your career when you are setting up scientific collaborations.

JYI is a great opportunity to help people publish their own discoveries. This is good for your training and good for society. JYI also is a good demonstration that undergraduates can perform rigorous scientific experiments and publish high quality articles. Finally, JYI enables people from different parts of the world to work together as a team.  This not only develops professional relations with other universities, nations, and cultures, but also friendships.

Thus far, I’ve been involved in research for a little over a decade.  What tips would I offer undergraduates interested in getting into research?  First, start early! It is never too early to get into research, and the sooner you start the more connections and skills you will develop. Second, do what you love regardless of whether or not it is for your major! I’ve heard of several people who are performing life science research but are majoring in English. People have a diversity of interests – do not be directed done one single path! Third, apply for scholarships, fellowships, and grants as soon as possible. Once you receive an award, it often results in other future awards. Fourth, work as a team and listen to your mentor! Although we may imagine scientists as lonely people in a dark lab, it is often quite the opposite and it is not uncommon to see a dozen people contribute to a scientific paper. Finally, remember that research his hard! In fact, research is a marathon and not a sprint. There will be great times and there will be times you wish you were an artist. Like anything in life, the things worth doing are challenging. Always look at the long-term goals of why you want to do research and enjoy the journey!

This is a little bit about myself and my thoughts about undergraduate research and JYI. JYI has proven to be a valuable experience in my professional career and I hope it will be useful to yours as well! If you ever want to talk about graduate school, academia, scientific research, or anything else, please do not hesitate in contacting me at!