Tim Caradonna 2

HST MD grad Timothy Caradonna

Caradonna will begin a residency in internal medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Mindy Blodgett | HST

When Timothy Caradonna, 2023 HST MD graduate, looks back at his graduate and medical school career, the “Covid years” loom large. And, unsurprisingly, he says that his time at the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology (HST), during this pandemic period, “were some of the most influential.”

Caradonna, who grew up in the Boston area and earned a chemistry degree at Yale University, received his PhD in the Harvard Biophysics Program in 2021. After graduation from the HST MD program, he will be moving on to a residency in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, with the goal of a career as a physician-scientist, specializing in hematology and oncology.

“I’d like to have my own lab, and to be able to balance all that I’ve learned in HST about understanding medicine and disease on a mechanistic level,” he says.

Caradonna, who worked in the labs of Aaron Schmidt and Stephen C. Harrison, both at Harvard, studied the antibody response to influenza virus and rationally designed immunogens using structural and biophysical methods. His interest lies in understanding the mechanisms underlying specificity in the immune system, and how proper vaccine design can influence the immune response to pathogens.

He says that one of his most cherished memories of HST was his time as a teaching assistant in the HST.146 Biochemistry and Metabolism class, at the height of the pandemic.

“I absolutely loved teaching during Covid,” he says. “We had previously re-done the class to begin with, and then when Covid struck, we had to restructure it again, for online and Zoom…it was my job to answer questions in the chat during the class and I was often just scrambling for answers.”

“The medium (Zoom) is not optimized for learning, Zoom fatigue is significant,” Caradonna remembers. “But we found a way to get the material across.” Caradonna was awarded the 2021 HST Outstanding Teacher Award for a Student, with his nominators calling him a “gifted teacher and scientific mentor.” A student nominator said that of his “exceptional teaching qualities,” a highlight would be “his infinite…patience for questions, and his amazing ability to take the driest of material and make it seem fun and engaging. Because of Tim, our class will never be able to think about Thanksgiving without considering postprandial somnolence.”

Caradonna said that participating in the efforts to overhaul the curriculum of the class, and then helping to restructure it yet again during Covid, was rewarding, and that he appreciated the occasionally unusual questions he received in the Zoom chats during lectures. “Whenever we have to think, and not just memorize, that is when the best learning occurs.”

Sudha Biddinger, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Metabolism at Harvard, who was one of the former course instructors, said at the time of the award, that “There are people in this world who have incredible energy and enthusiasm, there are people that are incredibly smart, and there are people who have the knack for getting things done. Tim, you have all those qualities, and on top of that, you’re kind and compassionate and just a ton of fun to work with.”

Caradonna says he also appreciated the fact that during the early months of the Covid pandemic, he and a few others in the Schmidt lab were able to use their experience studying influenza to help supply hospitals and research groups with recombinant SARS-CoV-2 proteins and antibodies needed for experiments and assay development. “We eventually phased back towards our previous research balance,” he says. “But it was a fantastic example that what we were doing matters. Everything we were studying in the lab was directly translatable to what was going on in the world.”

In looking back, Caradonna says he also has fond memories of the beginning of his time at HST, “when I was first getting to know these classmates who would become my best friends…I remember one time, after our Cardiology final, one of our friends had a roof deck and we were up there having a barbeque.”

“I think of the many times when we all collectively realized how little we knew,” he says. “Now, many of us are starting to work as residents, fellows, and attendings. But in the beginning, we were making all sorts of silly mistakes, and practicing on each other. There were a lot of laughs.”

He calls HST a “great program,” especially for students who “like to learn a certain way…you build a foundation from the ground up, learning the material, and then you move up.” He adds that it’s a program that is good for those who “like asking questions, and are curious.”

He is looking forward to learning more in his residency, and in the meantime, when not in the lab, he says he spends his time playing piano, tennis, and cooking lots of Italian food.