Postdoctoral Alumni - Hans-Martin Herz



Hans-Martin Herz, Ph.D.
Assistant Member, Department of Cell and Molecular Biology
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Stowers Institute, Hans-Martin Herz, Ph.D., not only conducted cutting-edge studies in chromatin biology but also learned a great deal about how to teach, inspire and mentor young scientists.

Herz is applying that knowledge in his faculty position in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which he joined in August 2015, after completing postdoctoral training at the Institute in Ali Shilatifard's lab. In 2008, Herz was awarded his Ph.D. in genetics (Summa cum laude) from the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Now as head of a lab and a mentor to newly minted Ph.D.’s at St. Jude, Herz plans to pass along the best practices in management and communication that he learned from his mentor Ali Shilatifard, Ph.D. and others at the Stowers Institute.

“In my view, the main shortcomings of many postdocs when transitioning to their own faculty position usually have less to do with their ability to independently carry out their own research but more with a lack of management experience, people skills and networking abilities,” says Herz. He hopes to ensure that the postdocs in his lab gain the skills and experience that they, too, will need to succeed as scientists.

At St. Jude, located in Memphis, TN, Herz is continuing the research that he began at the Institute to understand how activation or inactivation of DNA elements known as enhancers drive tumor progression in cancers bearing mutations in the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) 3 and 4 genes. These genes, which encode for chromatin-modifying enzymes, are mutated in a broad spectrum of adult and pediatric cancers.

“My goal is to utilize the available resources at St. Jude to study the effects of MLL3 and MLL4 mutations in childhood cancers and to develop therapeutic approaches to target cancers with these mutations,” said Herz, whose research findings will contribute to the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, co-sponsored by St. Jude and Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

While at Stowers, Herz was a Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund Fellow and was awarded the NIH Pathway to Independence grant from the National Cancer Institute. The NIH grant is designed to help expedite an outstanding postdoc’s transition to a junior faculty position. However, Herz said that his transition also was aided by the Stowers Institute, which sponsors workshops, seminars and other programs designed to help postdocs plan their careers as scientists. One such program is the faculty search group, headed by Jerry Workman, Ph.D., Stowers investigator and head of the Institute’s postdoc affairs program.

By participating in this program, Dr. Herz says that he learned how to put together a job application and undergo a mock job interview and chalk talk in the presence of an outside panel of expert reviewers that included scientists from other institutions. Dr. Herz emphatically states, “This proved to be a great help in my interviews for faculty positions.”

Dr. Herz also praises the Institute’s core centers because they enable Stowers researchers to “outsource” certain aspects of wet lab experiments and data analysis. As a result, Dr. Herz believes this opportunity allows postdocs to work more efficiently than their counterparts at other universities and institutes.