Megan Radyk

PhD Candidate, Washington University

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Speak up, especially if you're nervous.

What do you do?

My research is focused on how mature, secretory cells in the gastrointestinal system change their cell state and become more progenitor-like after an injury to aid in repair. One example is after chronic H. pylori infection in the stomach, digestive enzyme-secreting chief cells revert to a more "stem-like" state and become metaplastic cells. This cell state change also increases the risk of cancer initiation, as metaplasia is a pre-cancerous stage.

Why did you choose this field?

I grew up in a small town and didn't know any scientists, so I never considered it a career I could pursue. I didn't know I wanted to be a scientist until I had the opportunity to work in a research lab during undergrad. I found this position just by talking to STEM professors who suggested I apply to a lab that had an opening for the summer. I had no other plans and it seemed interesting. It turned out to be a formative experience and I grew so much from having mentors like me to help me reason through scientific problems and find new results. The lab members also became some of my dearest friends.

Once I found my first result in my undergrad lab, I realized I could contribute new ideas and findings to a field that people around the world cared about. I was hooked and knew this was something I wanted to spend my life doing. With a lot of help from my undergrad lab PI, I was accepted to a PhD program.

I joined my PhD lab because I was interested in learning about the intersection of cell, cancer, and regenerative biology. Each of these fields has strengths and I want to apply principles from each to answer questions about cell fate changes in the context of human disease.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Just getting accepted into a PhD program was a big landmark for me because I didn't really know how possible it was and I didn't have a backup plan. I think the biggest achievement so far, was applying to postdoctoral positions across the US and receiving offers from each one. It really emphasized how much I have learned and how good I am at what I do. Now that I'm in the last few months of my PhD and almost a doctor, I wish I could show younger me what I've accomplished in the present and how much more I can accomplish in the future.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I like puzzles and strategy games, so it only makes sense that I love those aspects of STEM and research. Aside from this, I love teaching others and seeing them experience an "aha moment" when they finally understand a difficult topic or got an experiment to work. I also really enjoy talking about any aspect of STEM with other scientists and, especially with, non-scientists.

Best advice for next generation?

Speak up, especially if you're nervous.

There's a lot of things I could have accomplished faster or better if I just asked for help or expressed my thoughts about a topic.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
― Margaret Atwood

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