What do you do?
I work in the laboratory of Dr. Laura Ranum in the Center for NeuroGenetics at the University of Florida. Our lab focus on repeat-associated disorders, those diseases (neurological) which are caused by microsatellite expansions in DNA. My primary focus is on C9orf72 ALS/FTD, a repeat expansion that causes ALS and/or frontotemporal dementia and ultimately results in death. In Dr. Ranum's lab, I am working on the characterization of two distinct immunotherapies for the treatment of C9 ALS/FTD, with the hopes of delaying and potentially preventing further disease progression in patients.
Why did you choose this field?
I have always been interested in science, particularly biology, as I grew up asking my nurse mother hundreds of questions about the human body. When I was 13, my grandfather was diagnosed with ALS and it was my first interaction with neurodegenerative disease. This eye-opening experience led me to pursue the study of ALS with the hope to one day generate a viable treatment option for patients with this disease.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I have known since the age of 13 that I wanted to pursue a PhD in neuroscience to ultimately study ALS. However, my first attempt at applying to graduate schools resulted in multiple rejections. I applied to schools outside of my league and came from a completely different background with little-to-no neuroscience experience: engineering. I was entirely downtrodden and discouraged by this experience and considered myself a failure; after all, I could not begin to chase my dream if I could not get accepted to graduate school. I then applied again the next year and was accepted to 100% of the schools I applied. I put more effort into my application package and was pleased to have my choice of school to pursue my graduate career. Since then, I have encountered multiple road blocks along the way, but I have done my best to keep in mind that nothing will go 100% of the way you hope; the most important thing you can do is to remember your passion for the subject and to continue working hard.
Why do you love working in STEM?
The one thing I love most about working in STEM is that every day I learn something new. Any time I perform an experiment, I am looking at results no one has seen before and no matter how inconsequential those results may be, for a small amount of time I was the only person who knew them. I love having the opportunity to continue learning and the ability to interpret those findings with the hope of producing something grand.
Best advice for next generation?
I think the most important thing about pursuing a career in STEM is to not fear asking for help and to always be open to criticism. No matter how smart you are or how hard you have worked, you will encounter setbacks that you cannot handle on your own. Ask for help from those around you and do not be ashamed to do so and continue to grow from learning and observing.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” — Dead Poets Society