EDUCATION: B.S in Biochemistry at Stony Brook; starting a Ph.D. at Rockefeller University in the Fall.
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Viral evolution and innate immunity against viruses.
FUTURE GOALS:My immediate goal is to get my Ph.D. and after that I plan to continue doing research. I’d love to do a post-doc at a place like the National Institute of Health (NIH).
When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in science?
Always–I’ve always known I wanted to be a scientist. When I was very young I wanted to be a paleontologist, then some time later I found microbiology and fell in love with that. I knew from the time that I was very young that I wanted to pursue research professionally, and I’ve still been working towards that goal.
What/who got you interested in your field? Is there a story involved?
There’s no one individual story about how I got interested in science, but a lot of things in my life really aligned for me and kept me interested in science. My dad is an engineer, and he’d try to explain how things worked at the dinner table–a lot of back-of-the-napkin doodles of speakers, airplanes, and radios. My parents got me a kiddie microscope one year for Christmas, and I spent hours looking at slides of cricket legs and butterfly wings. My parents consistently supported my decision to pursue science. They took me to tons of museums and never stopped me from asking questions.
What research do you do and what makes it important?
I’ve spent the last four years developing a CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system to target the DNA of a mouse gammaherpesvirus. This virus is a model for the two human gammaherpesviruses, KSHV and EBV, which are associated with the development of lymphomas (cancer inside infection-fighting cells), especially in immunosuppressed individuals. Our goal is to take what we’ve learned using my system in vitro and in vivo and apply that to the human gammaherpesviruses.
You recently won the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) Award. How did that feel? What was the first thought that went through your head?
I’m still in shock over it–I’m so thrilled! I actually found out about it at 7 am from an email from Jen Green, the External Fellowships Advisor here. She sent me an email that just said “CONGRATULATIONS!!!” with a ton of emojis — the actual email from NSF had gotten bumped to my spam folder at first, so I hadn’t seen it. I spent a long couple of minutes holding my breath while I checked the NSF site to see if I’d gotten it. Afterwards I immediately called my parents–I was so excited to tell them.
Do you have any tips or advice for others applying to the GRFP?
It really helped me to get as many opinions on it as possible. Everyone I talked to had some really great feedback to help me elevate my language or make my proposal clearer. It made my application a lot stronger than it would have been on its on.
Are there any side projects you’ve started recently that you are glad you did?
In my spare time, I’m very much into reading and writing. I’m the Editor in Chief of Spoke the Thunder, Stony Brook’s literary magazine, and it’s been tremendously rewarding to put together a magazine each semester. With my own writing, I’ve been trying to challenge myself with different genres – I wandered into horror recently and discovered I really liked writing about it. Within the next few years, I’m going to try to publish enough of my work to become a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America member.
What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science?
I think it’s a feedback loop – young women in science need to see women in science to know that it’s possible. There are stories of incredible female scientists that are so buried that it seems like it’s rare for female scientists to succeed; in reality, women have a rich history of being great in STEM. I think we need to make sure that, at every step in their education, young girls know that they can ask questions, that they can become professionals – that they’re not going to be the only girl in science and that they never have been. I always remember a book my mom bought me when I was in elementary school, it had a title something to the effect of “You can be a female paleontologist!” It talked about famous female paleontologists and what they discovered. I always remember it because it was the first time I saw examples of women doing work that I wanted to do. I think that kind of experience should be way more common.