What do you do?
My career has been dedicated to understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of microbial infections. My goal is to understand the contributions from both the pathogen and the host in an attempt to develop new methods for disease prevention or treatment. Prior to my postdoctoral training, my research included the study of non-pathogenic bacteria (B. subtilis), Herpesviruses, and highly pathogenic avian Influenza A viruses (H5N1 and H7N7).
My current research is focused on understanding Influenza A virus infectivity, replication, transcription, and host cell responses at the single cell level. Traditional bulk methods in the laboratory often do not allow for high-resolution single cell studies necessary to capture viral evolutionary dynamics. To study viral infection at a single cell level, we use drop-based microfluidics, which allows for rapid and high-throughput analysis of infected host cells in picoliter sized drops.
I am currently working on combining engineering techniques with molecular biology assays to look at cell-to-cell heterogeneity and host-pathogen dynamics during Influenza A infection.
Why did you choose this field?
My expertise and training began as an undergraduate with Dr. Priscilla Schaffer at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Melanie Berkmen at Suffolk University. These two female role models had a profound influence on my early development as a scientist. It was with Dr. Schaffer that I was introduced to molecular virology and cemented my passion for the study of infectious diseases. This experience also prepared me to work with Dr. Melanie Berkmen at Suffolk University, where we characterized a putative mating pore protein in Bacillus subtilis. My research with Dr. Schaffer and Dr. Berkmen resulted in two publications in the Journal of Bacteriology and the Journal of Virology in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
Just graduating from college was a huge accomplishment. When I left high school, I did not apply to any colleges, thinking that I did not have the grades or extracurricular activities needed to get accepted. I spent a few years working and traveling and when I went back to school at age 20, I started at a community college in San Diego.
Having these couple of years to grow up a bit more, I started school with a renewed sense of determination and was able to transfer to a 4-year university in Boston to finish my undergraduate degree. I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude and got accepted to numerous graduate schools across the country!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I have always enjoyed trying to solve problems and have also discovered, in my years as a graduate student and beyond, that I enjoy teaching, both in the classroom and in the lab. I like that every day is slightly different and that the data from experiments can point you in a direction you did not expect to go into in the first place. The ability to overcome challenges in the lab is the most rewarding feeling and drives me forward each day.
Best advice for next generation?
I am a big proponent of maintaining and advocating for work-life balance. This is difficult in STEM careers where experiments do not exist within the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday work week.
By maintaining mental health and personal relationships outside of the lab, it is easier to manage the ups and downs of life in the lab! Science (especially biology) is a lot of failure followed by incremental success.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
I have snowboarded in 8 different states, 2 provinces (Canada), 4 different European countries (Italy, Switzerland, France and England) and in both hemispheres (New Zealand)!! I also have a 4 year old daughter who loves to ski with me!