What did you want to be when you were a child? If someone asked you: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” what did you say?
I alternated between saying I wanted to be a mommy and president of the United States. I did become a mom to two boys (ages 5 and 7) — and I consider that my most important and rewarding job.
Describe your research in five words.
“Personalized medicine for pregnant women.”
Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.
I always enjoyed doing research and could never get away from it even when I tried. I moved to Chapel Hill thinking I would focus on being a clinician and taking care of patients. But when I started working here, I was struck by how uniquely collaborative people were and quickly formed a research team to study fetal gene expression in preterm birth. I wrote a grant on this subject and was encouraged to submit it to the NIH by my mentor, Kim Boggess. Kim was so enthusiastic about the grant and even met with me on a Sunday to fine-tune it. I never expected to get the grant, but it was funded on the first round and at that moment, I thought, I can actually do this! I give credit to Kim for encouraging me and helping me submit my first NIH grant. I would never have done that without her, and I think the key point is that senior faculty can have a huge impact on junior faculty.
What’s a funny story that happened while you were doing research?
I had to do a science project in third grade. My hypothesis was that plants with worms in the soil would grow better than plants without worms. I asked my mom to drive me to a fishing store to get worms. They sold them by the hundred, so I used them all because I thought more would be better. Turns out my hypothesis wasn’t true and the plant with the worms died. I was hooked on science after that, though, and I have also had a lot more negative studies since then!
What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?
There is a lot of work to be done in OB/GYN! The most important thing is not to give up and not to get discouraged. Grants and papers do get rejected, but when that happens, I refocus on my passion — helping pregnant women and their children. If you do what you love, you will succeed.