Meet the Scientist

PhD Candidate at Baylor University

What scientific field do you work in?

 

Biology, specifically breast cancer biology.

"...put cheese on it and I’m happy!"

Could you briefly explain what your job involves?

 

My research focuses on the molecular and cellular side of cancer. I work in the cell culture hood, manipulating both cancer and non-cancer cells, with mice for in vivo experiments, and in a traditional lab doing molecular and biochemical benchwork. I also was a lab instructor for seven semesters and have mentored students in the lab.

Do you have any secret talents?

 

I tap dance! I started a tap club as a freshman in college and had been doing it for years before that. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll see me tap dancing in lab while I’m doing benchwork.

When did you decide you wanted to work as a scientist?

 

I first became interested in science –namely, genetics—when I was in 7th grade. We were doing Punnet squares and I thought the idea of inheritance was so interesting. That passion remained on the backburner until 11th grade when I took AP Biology. My teacher (Mrs. Gilmore) was incredible and always would bring in scientific articles and reviews to enhance classroom learning. One day, we were given an article on the advent of epigenetics; I was sold right then and there that I wanted to be part of that field.

Have you taken part in any research? If yes, what was your most exciting project?

 

Yes! I have been researching since I was 18 years old, and I’m currently in my third lab. In this lab, I have had a really hard time settling on a project (it took me all the way up to my proposal). Thanks in part to some well-timed funding and to the support of my mentor, I now am studying small-molecule targeting of cancer stem cells in triple-negative breast cancer. That is, I focus on a very difficult-to-treat portion of the tumour that is also solely responsible for metastatic spread. Because there is not a treatment that is able to eliminate this population completely, there is a need to find a specific compound that will either kill or sensitize these cancer stem cells. That’s where I come in!

What's your favourite food?

 

Cheese. Easily. I’m a Wisconsin girl through and through; put cheese on it and I’m happy!

"...stay persistent, focused, and flexible."

What educational pathway did you take to get to where you are now?

 

I joined a research lab by October of my freshman year of college doing population genetics. It was a great start, but I realized it wasn’t where my passions lay, and I moved on to a biomolecular chemistry lab to finally study epigenetics. Under the mentorship of an incredible graduate student, I completed an honours thesis looking at the acetylation of proteins in the mitochondria. He also urged me to consider graduate school, and I spent my entire Thanksgiving break filling out applications last-minute. I got into a few schools and was impressed by the prestige of one and by the mentor I’d be working with at the other. I ended up choosing to go to the smaller school, knowing I’d be getting a lot of one-on-one guidance and that my mentor was truly invested in my career. I made that move two and a half years ago, and I’m so glad I did!

What's your favourite movie quote?

 

“As you wish” from the Princess Bride. I have a close relationship with my Dad by way of movie quotes and music lyrics, and this is one that reminds me of the entire conversations he and I would have only fuelled by quotes.

What was the best thing about your job?

 

The best thing is easily the people I work with! I am so fortunate that our department is filled with driven, compassionate, and amazing students that really build a web of support for each other. They are the ones who instil the confidence in me to keep going when the data is confusing or take me to coffee when I’m stressed out.  I’m also very fortunate to have a mentor that is always willing to listen and is supportive of my ideas; I know not every grad student has that.

"...you’ll see me tap dancing in lab..."

What was the worst thing about your job?

 

I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a bad thing, because I love doing research. But, I have realized that I really want to pursue science communication, rather than continue just doing research for the rest of my career. This is a necessary step in becoming the communicator that I want to be, and I am so thankful I have this opportunity. I do get restless sometimes, though, when I can’t spend as much time working on my scicomm career as I’d like. It’s all a balance!

If you could take one thing with you to an island, what would it be and why?

 

I guess it depends on the size of the island! If I’m stranded, well, I’d bring a way to get off (like a well-stocked plane or boat). If it’s an island like Australia is an island or even Japan, then I would want a good pair of walking shoes. I’d be about to do a lot of exploring!

Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in your career path?

 

Since I want to be a science communicator, I would advise those interested to think about how they want to approach scicomm. If you want to be a science illustrator or writer, maybe you don’t need to be a researcher to achieve that. There are so many ways to be successful in scicomm and so many angles to approach if from. There isn’t a strict rule book, which can be exciting, but you also have to be able to stay persistent, focused, and flexible.

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