Benjamin Rodrigues

Fellow Perspectives: Benjamin Rodrigues on Launching a Research Career

With an interest in studying the mechanisms of white matter injury in newborns, Benjamin Rodrigues, MD, came to the UCSF Department of Pediatrics as a Neonatology fellow and currently performs research as part of Dr. Xianhua Piao’s lab.

Prior to coming to UCSF, Benjamin completed residency in Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He received his medical degree at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

Watch Benjamin discuss why he choose UCSF for his fellowship and read about how he plans to launch a career in research. 

What do you hope to accomplish during your time as a fellow? 

During residency, I was inspired by the way physician-scientists advocate for their patients in the lab. I became motivated to discover new treatments and alleviate suffering from my time treating children with complex diseases.

I thus envision a career that balances clinical time with discovery in the lab. Because my research interests came out of what I saw clinically, I find fulfillment in both aspects. Ultimately, I hope to launch the research aspect of my career during fellowship.

Why did you choose the UCSF Department of Pediatrics for your fellowship? 

Mentorship was key. Before my interviews, UCSF asked about my areas of interest and arranged for potential mentors to chat with me on interview day. I was able to quickly find the best mentor for my goals from these informal conversations.

Finding a mentor early meant an early start on my preliminary tasks, allowing me to immediately focus on research when I got to the lab. I also set up a front-loaded clinical schedule to ensure I had enough dedicated time for basic science research, an option in our fellowship that was helpfully accommodated by my program director.

Fellows with the UCSF Department of Pediatrics have a long history of receiving grants, including the competitive Pediatric Scientist Development Program that chose to sponsor me.

Ultimately, I chose UCSF because it was clear that physicians embarking on a research career are well supported.

What are some ways that a mentor has assisted you? 

My mentor is Xianhua Piao, MD, PhD, Director of the UCSF Newborn Brain Research Institute. Her experience and consistency helps me with day-to-day strategy in the lab while keeping my work framed within the perspective of my long-term career goals. With her advocacy and encouragement, I have quickly established a community of peers that are invested in my success as a researcher. 

What is your research currently focused on?

I study myelination in the brain, which enables nerve cells to transmit information faster and allows for complex brain processes. In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I treat babies that experience an interruption of oxygen to the brain in the time surrounding birth, which can lead to the disruption of myelination and lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy. 

In my current project at the Piao Lab, I am focused on the specific role of the myelinating cells of the brain, oligodendrocytes, and how they are affected by these injuries on a cellular level. The goal is to apply this knowledge to the creation of targeted therapies that prevent brain injuries in babies.