Jamal B. Williams has a bright future in scientific research thanks to his talents and the training he has received at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Williams investigates the synaptic and epigenetic abnormalities that underlie behavioral deficits in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders in the laboratory of Zhen Yan, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of physiology and biophysics.
Williams expects to earn his doctoral degree in neuroscience in February 2022 and then move into a postdoctoral associate position in the lab of Daniel Geschwind, MD, PhD, at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“Work I do during my postdoctoral research will build upon my current knowledge in a big way, by looking at how genetic risk factors eventually lead to the epigenetic and synaptic dysfunction I have studied during my graduate research,” says Williams, who has also been working with Yan on his doctoral thesis projects on Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.
“I aim to primarily study neurodevelopmental disorders, including working on a collaborative effort in revealing novel genetic risk factors for autism spectrum disorders in the African-American population,” he adds.
Williams knows the importance of the research he is pursuing.
“In psychiatric and neurological disorders, we are still far away in terms of identifying causal mechanisms, and of course viable treatments — and this can seem daunting at times,” says Williams, a Buffalo native. “However, when we can push the field a little bit further through rigorous scientific investigation, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment.”
“I look at scientific research as a service career. It is primarily paid for by us taxpayers, with the hope that we can push biomedical science further,” he adds. “So when you feel that the work you’re doing may one day give a return on investment to society, it is rewarding.”
Williams, who earned his bachelor’s degree from D’Youville College with dual degrees in mathematics and biology and a master’s degree in biology at Buffalo State College, has already received national recognition for his work.
He was awarded a prestigious NIH Blueprint D-SPAN Award (F99/K00) from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this year, which provides funding to facilitate completion of one’s doctoral dissertation and supports the transition of talented graduate students to strong neuroscience research postdoctoral positions.
He is a graduate scholar in UB’s Institute for Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity (iSEED), which provides competitive funding to a select group of exceptional first-year students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.
He was also awarded an Arthur A. Schomburg fellowship at UB, which provides funding for eligible underrepresented full-time graduate students at UB, and he mentors Jacobs School students in biomedical sciences.
Also, in response to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Williams and Megan Conrow-Graham, a fellow doctoral student in Yan’s lab, created Reclaim the Bench, a podcast that seeks “to amplify the voices and experiences of individuals and communities throughout history to the current day who have been historically excluded, marginalized, oppressed and exploited in the fields of science and medicine.”
His experiences at the Jacobs School have added to his growth as a person and as a researcher.
“I think the biggest thing I have gained from the Jacobs School is supportive peers, faculty and staff. Everyone is encouraging, from your lab mates to the cleaning crew,” Williams says. “When everyone is on your side and you’re on theirs, this environment is one you can thrive in.”