When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Describe your research in five words.
“How viruses take over cells.”
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut. I was intrigued by the thought of exploring outer space. Perhaps it was because I had watched too many voyages of the starship Enterprise, but I have always been fascinated with space exploration. Alas, I ended up pursuing a career that was much more down to earth.
Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.
During my sophomore year at Mount Holyoke College, I was studying biochemistry and performing undergraduate research on the kinetics of a cellular enzyme’s function. I fell in love with discovery science and bench research. I enjoyed pursuing questions on how miniscule proteins worked inside a cell. I quickly realized how much I loved the thrill of discovery and finding something new for the very first time. This propelled me to apply to graduate school in the biomedical sciences.
What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?
When I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, I discovered a novel viral protein with cancerous properties that made a cell expressing it grow abnormally. This was a “eureka” moment for me. This was also the initial finding that jumpstarted my research program and my lab at UNC. My lab now has a superb group of Carolina students and fellows who have continued making discoveries of their own — and it has been wonderful to watch that happen.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?
Be confident in your abilities, and get rid of the “imposter syndrome.” It is important to surround yourself with positive people and mentors. There are many scientists, both women and men, who are amazing role models and great mentors — make an effort to find them. Lastly, don’t be afraid of failure — reach for the stars!