Joshua McCausland

I work in the lab of Dr. Jie Xiao in the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry. In general, we study how bacteria organize several proteins in the right time and place for successful cell division through super-resolution microscopy. My project in particular studies how a bacterial cytoskeletal protein, FtsZ, can act like a linear motor to drive the movement of cell wall synthases in the model bacterium Escherichia coli. This discovery is important because the proteins that synthesize bacterial cell walls are antibiotic targets, so understanding how cell wall synthases are distributed, activated and spatiotemporally regulated provides insight on potential future therapeutics.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work? I chose Johns Hopkins for the strong graduate student community that I found. Graduate school is a long and difficult journey, so having a good program and connections with other students and postdocs can help when you need guidance or simply a break from experiments. What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received? I feel incredibly lucky. I’ve seen other grad students and postdocs that I’ve looked up to win this award in the past, so it’s an honor to follow in their footsteps. What contributed to your project’s success? (Special skills, interests, opportunities, guidance, etc.) I’m a tinkerer by nature, and when I had to build and optimize a new platform for single molecule tracking, it took a certain level of perseverance to tweak and optimize my setup. I think that persistence, coupled with strong mentorship and support from my PI Jie and collaborator Jian Liu, helped me bring the project to the finish line. What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles students and fellows play in research at Hopkins? I believe it’s critical to have something like Young Investigators’ Day. Grad students and postdocs invest a large amount of their time to bring a project or idea to fruition, so it’s nice to have a day that honors their contributions to research. What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Hopkins? I built a tough experimental platform for my first paper that orients E. coli cells vertically. This setup allows you to track single cell wall proteins circumferentially around the cell. After months of hard work troubleshooting and perfecting the experiment, I remember the first day I got the experiment to work. I jumped up and down and yelled a bit. Thank goodness I was alone in the lab! What are your plans over the next year or so? Graduating, looking for faculty positions, etc.? I will graduate this summer (July of 2022) and will start a postdoc at Stanford in September. My goal is to become a faculty member and open my own lab someday. Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences? I enjoy nature photography and weight lifting. My undergraduate degree focused more on ecology, and I still maintain that through naturalist-style hikes (it makes me a poor hiking partner due to my slow, sauntering pace). I like to find and photograph insects and fungi in their natural habitat.