Grad student attends 2011 Nobel Laureate Meetings

Melvys Valledor (left) met with many Nobel Laureates to discuss her thesis. She spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn over breakfast in Germany. Photo courtesy Melvys Valledor.

Nobel Laureates are the rockstars of the academic world, and one UM graduate student recently had the chance to to meet and share her ideas with the prominent group.

Melvys Valledor, a microbiology and biochemistry student at the Miller School of Medicine, attended the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Germany over the summer. The meeting offered the distinguished young researchers in the sciences the opportunity to to hear the ideas of fellow peers and Nobel Prize winners.

Each conference held is for a specific science; Valledor attended the physiology/medicine meetings held from June 26 to July 1. The program for the meetings included presentations by the Laureates, panel discussions and smaller meetings with the Nobel winners and the students.

The intellectual intimacy the meetings provide is very rare. Valledor attended a breakfast with 2009 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn.

“I had the opportunity to ask her all my questions and discuss all my ideas with her,” Valledor said. “Our conversation was stimulating and intense.”

Being selected to attend the conference is, in itself, a significant honor. Only 70-90 American students, the majority of whom are Ph.D. candidates, are invited after a process that requires nomination by various academic institutions and a review by the Lindau committee.

At this year’s meetings, 566 total students from 77 different nations attended, along with 23 Nobel Laureates. The mix of great minds and different backgrounds provided for an enriching experience, both scientifically and culturally.

“My mind became opened to new problems and potential solutions,” Valledor said.

Raised in Cuba, Valledor studied biochemistry at the University of Havana and won an award to travel to Germany to continue her studies. She then immigrated to the U.S. and soon found herself at the University of Miami, where she became a graduate student in 2007 after working as a lab technician.

Valledor’s advisor, Dr. Richard Myers, is proud of her talents as a scientist and person.

“I have never mentored a more driven, competent and creative individual than Melvys, ” Myers said. “I expect her to make substantial contributions to science throughout her career.”

Valledor encourages students to become involved in research opportunities on campus.

“There is no more effective way to integrate your studies and ‘own’ your education than to conduct independent inquiry to solve authentic problems,” she said.

Valledor’s current research involves manipulating genes in human stem cells. Research in this area of molecular cell biology and biochemistry is helping put scientists closer to being able to modify genomes in order to cure genetic diseases.

Her ultimate career goal is to help study and cure diseases through independent research.

In addition to her research, Valledor mentors young minority science students.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I had, for the insightful conversations we had together, and for their suggestions about my research, my professional development and my life,” Valledor said.