Katie Stember

Katie Stember is a PhD student in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine within the UNC School of Medicine. She is also the founder of Scientists of North Carolina, a social media platform striving to bridge the gap between scientists and the community. Her research focuses on the disease-causing role of T cells in ANCA vasculitis, an autoimmune disease that affects blood vessels throughout the body.

Katie Stember poses for a portrait on campus.photo by Alyssa LaFaro
July 26th, 2017

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.

“T-cells in human autoimmune disease.”

A veterinarian — but then I realized that would mean animals dying in my care, and I wasn’t really on board with that.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

I’ve always loved science and, for a long time, I thought loving science meant being in the medical field (nurse, doctor, etc.). When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work full time at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston, and prep patients for surgery. It was a great experience, but I learned quickly that it wasn’t for me. It forced me to explore other options in science and within a week or two of doing research in the lab, I was hooked.

a group of people stand arm-in-arm

Stember (second from right) and friends participated in the 2016 PawsFest walk/run in Mebane.

What’s an interesting/funny story from your time doing research?

One Friday night, I was doing experiments late after everyone left for the day. I headed to Marsico Hall to use some of the equipment there — but when I arrived, all of the fire alarms were going off. Officials in the lobby told me everything was fine and that I could go into the basement to do my experiment. The elevators weren’t working, so I had to take the stairs and for whatever reason the basement door wouldn’t unlock. I was stuck in the stairwell until one of the guys heard me and was able to open the door! I finished my experiment and everything was all fixed by the time I left for the night, but for a moment I was very worried I would be stuck in the stairwell until someone found me.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Have a life outside of science. Find things (hobbies, people, etc.) to help you get through the hard days when science doesn’t work because there will be a lot of them. Research is a marathon — not a sprint — and the easiest way to get through it is to have a strong support system.


UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2017. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.