Postdoctoral Research Associate, The Meyer Lab
You work in a laboratory. What are you currently researching?
I’m currently working on a bioengineering project to further develop a FRET-based single-molecule protein sequencing assay. More specifically, we hijacked the bacterial ClpXP protease to “read” the order and distance of a polypeptide’s fluorescently-labeled cysteines and lysines as these labeled residues are passed through the fluorescently-labeled protease core. These read-outs can then be compared to proteomics databases for identification. One of the benefits of this method is that you could quickly and accurately detect proteins with dynamic range in complex samples, so you wouldn’t need a large amount of known sample for correct identification. Eventually, single-molecule protein sequencing could be used for basic research, medical diagnostics, synthetic biology, and more.
What was it that originally sparked your interest in biology?
Honestly, probably a variety of different experiences. I used to live in Texas as a kid, and you can only collect so many giant centipedes before someone finds them in your locker and tells you to stop. Bog mummy chemistry and the cyberpunk genre also helped.
What do you enjoy most about working here at the U of R?
Everyone in my lab is great, and my PI is genuinely passionate about not only the research, but also about making the field (and academia in general) a more inclusive, accessible space. I also get to walk through Mt. Hope Cemetery every day on my way to work, which is very on-brand for me.
What advice would you give to prospective students looking to study in our department?
I don’t think this is necessarily specific to this department, but try to have an idea of why you want to go to graduate school or what you want to do afterwards beyond “I’m terrified of leaving academia and graduate school is the next thing on the list.” Speaking from experience, my lack of direction resulted in rapidly oscillating existential crises that I only resolved with, among other things, a hefty dose of stumbling, privilege, and luck.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying biology?
One of the best, most ego-shattering lessons I learned in graduate school is that you can’t give up on something just because you don’t understand it immediately. A lot of my initial graduate school-related imposter syndrome stemmed from the worry that I felt superficially good at certain things and looked great on paper, but I also felt incapable of explaining them in detail or effectively teaching them to others because I’d only looked at the paper/topic/whatever once or twice. I’m sure there are people who are capable of doing this, but I’m definitely not one of them (and, I’ll be honest, most of the people I’ve talked to about this aren’t, either - we’re all just too afraid to admit it). Anyway, in graduate school, cramming isn’t really a viable strategy anymore and perfectionism isn’t enviable (or even achievable) unless you enjoy being in a constant state of mind-numbing anxiety due to the fact that fear is your only motivator. I’m much happier and well-rounded for admitting and addressing this, and my work, teaching, and general motivation for learning new things improved immensely.
How do you think our biology department stands out in comparison to other universities?
I haven’t been here for too long, but everyone I’ve interacted with is collegial and relaxed. There are also many people currently in the biology department who do a good job of recognizing some of the outstanding issues common to academia and working to address them, whereas other universities can be dismissive towards student concerns or try to pretend they don’t exist.
How do you unwind when you’re not in the lab?
I enjoy sitting around a table with other nerds from the department while we roll dice and pretend to be vampires. Other hobbies include getting elbowed in the face at metal shows and gardening/mycoremediation.
What is one thing about yourself that you’d like more people to know?
I like being honest about my graduate school experience instead of trying to keep up the harmful pretense of effortless perfection and unceasing productivity. From what I’ve seen, this is a growing trend that I hope continues to improve the lives of future students and postdocs both inside and outside the lab.