Success Stories

Our Alumni are important to us!

Alumni Testimonials

Dr. Christopher Staley


I earned my PhD in the lab of Dr. Valerie (Jody) Harwood studying water quality microbiology and microbial ecology. I joined Jody’s lab as an undergrad, and my research then and throughout grad school was primarily on the virulence mechanisms of Vibrio vulnificus, which was a secondary focus of the lab. I was primarily interested in more molecular biology-based experiments including cloning and gene knockouts, in addition to the culture-based microbiology work that was typically done in the lab.

Since I had an early start as an undergrad, I had more time in grad school to develop new assays, and Jody also encouraged me to explore additional topics like GIS (geographic information system) mapping and Bayesian modeling to expand on the work we were doing. This set a strong foundation for incorporating new tools into my projects, especially where math was involved. 

After finishing my PhD, I joined Mike Sadowsky’s lab at the University of Minnesota (UMN). I was specifically hired to work with metagenomics-based and next-generation sequencing data to characterize the microbiota in the Mississippi River. The team I joined had a lot of computational experience but were in need of a direction in which to take the study. This was a natural fit for me given a background in water quality. During my post-doc, I also picked up the computational skills associated with metagenomics analyses and expanded on these to include more modeling and emerging statistical tools. This skillset was broadly applicable to clinical studies, and I began collaborating with dozens of investigators globally working on both environmental and clinical studies. 

I joined the faculty of the Department of Surgery at UMN at the end of 2017 with a clear mission to expand collaborative research throughout the department. It’s been an exciting adventure jumping on to research teams where my skills are an adjunct to clinical study goals or guiding clinical faculty to help me access patient populations for my studies.

Throughout my education and career, I’ve really been focused on improving studies and adding value, and there’s a huge opportunity to do that in translational medicine. What I’m learning is that the foundational knowledge of microbial ecology that I gained in grad school and as a post-doc is critical to maintaining that translational basis using emerging metagenomics- and sequencing-based tools – there’s a difference between statistical significance and biological or clinical significance.

I look forward to continuing to develop collaborations and enhance tools for microbiome research as we move toward an era of personalized medicine.