RVC Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Nick Jury
We recently caught up with RVC alum Dr. Nick Jury, who currently works as a Science Policy Analyst at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute within the National Institute of Health (NIH). We chatted about his job with NIH and specifically what roles he and the NIH have been playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nick also takes us back to his time at RVC and how it shaped his future.
Below is a brief bio on Nick and some excerpts from our recent discussion together. You can watch or listen to the interview in its entirety at the end of this blog.
Nicholas Jury, PhD, is an alumnus of Rock Valley College (Class of 2003), Bradley University (B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology, Class of 2006), and of the Neuroscience Graduate Program in the College of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Class of 2012). After completing his graduate training, he accepted a postdoctoral research fellow position at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where he studied the effects of sex, stress, and genetics on the neural mechanisms underlying alcohol addiction and dependency. After a productive two years in the lab, he then accepted a Senior Fellow position at a not-for-profit public health think tank in Washington, D.C.—the National Center for Health Research. In this role he successfully lobbied to remove key provisions from legislation that would have been detrimental to patient safety by undermining the FDA’s authority to require that drugs and medical devices be safe and effective. Currently, Nick is a Science Policy Analyst at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute within the NIH where he works to ensure that the most significant scientific advances are reported to members of Congress, other policy makers, scientists, clinicians, and the general public.
In layman’s terms, can you explain what the NIH is and does?
The Department of Health and Human Services is the larger department of the Federal Government and has several different agencies. It has the Food and Drug Administration. That agency looks at drugs, approves drugs, and devices for the treatment of diseases. You have the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] who monitors and uses surveillance to track different things. And then you have the National Institutes of Health, which has 26 institutes and centers that all have a different mission. The National Institutes of Health is the largest funder of Biomedical research, and a large portion of those dollars go out to grants to scientists and faculty at many of [the United States’] major universities and colleges. So that actually is a support mechanism for research at academic institutions, with industry, and in non-for-profit organizations. So doing the very basic science from animal models all the way up to doing clinical trials in humans. And the primary goal is to understand how living systems work and how they impact health, ultimately human health, and improving that is its goal.
Where does the NIH fit in the puzzle of this COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically what role have you personally played since this pandemic hit?
Many people have probably seen in the news that there was a study that came out of Montana where they looked at how long the [coronavirus] can hang around in the air, how long it lasts on surfaces. So research like that that’s really pivotal and important for informing policy and decision-makers. And my role, specifically, you know the virus affects the heart, the lung, and the blood systems, but from what we’re understanding it’s got a very complicated and evolving presentation. They continue to see different cases and how the virus affects different people. But my role, specifically, is to report back to Congress everything we’re doing. The Coronavrius Task Force sits at the White House level and they have to get all the information. One of my primary responsibilities is to report back on all of the things we’re funding, so anything that gets funded and is noteworthy, like a clinical trial or if there’s some kind of scientific advance, my job is to convert that into more layman’s term language that a bureaucrat or a policy-maker would be able to understand. Even though the task force has doctors and scientists on its membership, every week we put together a whole package of what needs to be sent up, and that goes up through all the layers and then eventually ends up at the White House to inform decisions that are hopefully going to be made by the task force. They need to have all the available data.
In general, my job is to put out press releases on different pieces of research we’re funding. Every year we do what’s called the CJ, the Congressional Budget Justification, and in there there’s a lot of rich information about scientific advances that our institute has funded. Another component is talking to the stakeholder groups, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and working with them as partners to try to understand these different diseases and just trying to understand and bring the patient perspective as well.
So it’s a really cool job being able to take all of this science and convert it into understandable information for the public, for patients, for Congress, just anyone in general.
The attention and the detail of the faculty at RVC, just the personal attention that you get, and the small class sizes, and just the community that I felt was there was very enriching.
What was your overall experience like at Rock Valley College?
It was a really great experience for me. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to pursue some kind of scientific path and I took every math class available there. I almost got a math minor. I enjoyed math, I enjoyed science, I enjoyed the humanities and the liberal arts education I got [at RVC]. And I enjoyed the personal attention of the professors. The attention and the detail of the faculty at RVC, just the personal attention that you get, and the small class sizes, and just the community that I felt was there was very enriching. It’s just a very good learning environment.
In what ways did RVC lay a foundation for you as you pursued advanced degrees and then as you started into your career path?
I was also very involved on campus. I was involved with the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I was also involved in Circle K, which is the college group of the Kiwanis. The faculty who were the advisors in those clubs who just gave personal time out of their lives to enrich ours and be a part of that just really solidified my leadership skills as I went through school. And it was a good transition point. A lot of people go from high school immediately to a university and I felt so much better prepared when I went to Bradley [University]. Rock Valley really prepared me for the rigor that was going to be needed at a really powerful research university. And it made me well poised to get additional scholarships as well. I was really sought after by a lot of the schools that I applied to. I ended up on the waitlist at Stanford. The learning skills, the leadership skills, the training, the rigor, and financially just keeping those loan amounts down. I really appreciated that.
What advice would you give a prospective student who might be thinking about attending RVC?
I would talk about the return of value. And I would say it’s not going to hamper you. I got on the waitlist at Stanford. And went to Bradley. And Bradley is a really good school. But Rock Valley, for the value you get, the personal attention, and the faculty are just so great. It was a really great time for me.