GMercyU Biology Graduate Sean Carney

Meet Sean Carney, PhD

Biology, 2011

Current Position: Scientist, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Story Last Updated: November 2019
Current Position Updated: August 2021


“The education and experiences GMercyU provided have been invaluable in graduate school and beyond,” said Sean Carney, PhD, who works today as a postdoctoral fellow in the Loparo Laboratory at Harvard Medical School.

“Upon graduating from GMercyU with a biology degree, I was well-prepared for a PhD program in Molecular Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of Pittsburgh. My time at GMercyU helped me develop a knowledge base, study habits, and a work ethic that were required for rigorous postgraduate work and continue to be critical as a research scientist at Harvard Medical School,” he said.

Not only did Sean find a transformative educational experience at GMercyU, he met his future wife (also a Biology major) in class. The couple married in 2016 and recently had their first child. Sean’s parents and sister also attended GMercyU, in addition to a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. “Going to GMercyU has been quite a family affair!” he said.

Sean’s current fellowship keeps him at Harvard until at least September 2020 – after that, his career can open to many possibilities, from a faculty job at a university to work within the industry. “I think I will be happy as long as I'm involved in exciting science,” he told us. Read more about his GMercyU experience…

Why I Choose GMercyU

I knew I wanted to attend a smaller school where I would not get lost in large lecture halls of 150 students and be unable to find the professor after class.

It was also important to me that the school promoted a culture of service and reflection and would engage with the outside community to those ends.

At the time, I had vague intentions to pursue medical school, and a rigorous biology program with a good track record of placing graduates into jobs, medical, and graduate school post-graduation was critical.

GMercyU ticked all of these boxes, and the Carlino Scholarship sealed the deal.

A Critical Scholarship

The Elizabeth Powers-Carlino Scholarship is what sealed my attending GMercyU. Beyond recognizing my hard work in high school, it provided critical financial support that allowed me to focus on my studies instead of continuing to work jobs unrelated to my interest in science.

The scholarship also provided me with an opportunity to study abroad in Granada, Spain during the summer of 2009. Living abroad and being immersed in another culture was amazing.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to thank Peter Carlino for his generosity in providing the scholarship at a Carlino Scholar Luncheon in 2011. The scholarship was a transformative opportunity for me.

GMercyU Faculty

I was lucky to work closely with many of GMercyU’s fantastic faculty. Looking back, the faculty involved in GMercyU’s Honors Program really helped me develop my critical thinking and communication skills. I wish I still had the same resources and time to dedicate to becoming a better reader and writer. Those skills are invaluable.

The faculty of GMercyU’s Biology department were also essential to my development as a person and as a scientist. Several of these faculty, including Dr. McEliece, consistently spent extra time providing additional tutoring that I needed, helping me search for and apply to internships, and discussing post-graduation possibilities with me. Beyond this, they set an excellent example of the type of person and professional I want to be.

Experiences That Shaped My Future

During my time at GMercyU, two experiences in particular were very important in shaping my future. The first was participating in the Alternative Spring Break program in the springs of 2009 (to Savannah, GA) and 2011 (to Baltimore, MD).

During these trips, students were immersed in unfamiliar communities and charged with providing needed services to those there. These experiences were eye opening for several reasons. The first is that many of the students on the trips, including myself, had not spent much time in communities much different than their own, much less gotten to know individuals from those communities. There is value in these types of experiences. They seem to foster empathy and broaden perspectives. Another is that we were shown that acts of service and kindness can be modest and still have a large impact.

The second experience that helped shape my future was participating in a summer research internship in John Pascal's Lab at Thomas Jefferson University. Here, I was exposed to cutting edge research that revealed the mechanism of action of a critical target for cancer therapies, PARP-1.

It was during this internship that I started to consider a career in research. It was a really exciting experience, and I was amazed by the research being done.

GMercyU’s Tradition of Service

The GMercyU community taught me the importance of serving others and reflection. Although it is sometimes a struggle during the busyness of daily life in a research lab, I try to step back and reflect on my work and its purpose.

I feel good about the research that I'm doing, and that it will provide knowledge that can be used to imagine, engineer, and implement new therapies and technologies.

I also try to stay involved in work outside the lab that enhances science education and experiences for students. Thus far, this has involved visiting elementary school classrooms to talk about science and my research, giving tours of the lab, and judging science fairs. I hope to continue working on impactful research projects and promoting science education.

My Work at Harvard

After graduating from GMercyU, I began graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. During my time there, I worked in the labs of Michael Trakselis and Sanford Leuba. My research centered around elucidating the mechanism(s) of action of DNA helicases. These proteins unwind the double-stranded DNA during processes like DNA replication and DNA repair.

Helicases are essential for all living things, and there are ongoing efforts to target these proteins for therapies treating cancer as well as bacterial and viral infections.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, my wife and I moved to Boston where I now work as a postdoctoral fellow in the Loparo Laboratory at Harvard Medical School. I've been researching the Nonhomologous End Joining (NHEJ) pathway of DNA repair. This repair pathway fixes the majority of double-stranded DNA breaks in our cells. It is also one of the cell's endogenous processes that is utilized for current gene editing strategies.

Additionally, there is interest in targeting this pathway to make current chemotherapies more potent when treating cancer. We are currently studying this process to identify critical components and interactions, which would provide additional targets for altering gene editing methods or for treating cancers.