Meet the Bloggers – Fall 2018

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

Can’t get enough of the NIH BEST blog? Good news. This fall we have eight new bloggers to welcome to the team. You will see an original blog post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. To get to know the new blogger read on.


Sarah Dickinson (Phelan)

5th-year Ph.D. candidate, University of Rochester Medical Center
Hobbies: Crossfit, board games, hiking through state/national parks, eating doughnuts

For as long as I’ve been in school (aka most of my life), science has always been my favorite subject. When I was a kid, I loved knowing all the different science facts that were taught in schools. As I learned more and more of these facts, I grew to appreciate how they all fit together into a more complex pathway or organ system; just like how puzzle pieces fit together and create one picture. When I was getting ready to graduate from Roberts Wesleyan College with a B.S. in Biology, and without a clear career in mind, my next thought was simply to continue with science. Eventually, I joined the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Ph.D. program in Toxicology where I study the off-target effects of UV filters found in sunscreens. Now that I’m beginning my 5th year, the question of “what’s next?” comes with a much greater sense of urgency than it did when I was a first year (cue the Jeopardy theme music). While I’m still exploring options that interest me, I’m leaning towards pursuing a career as a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution or a career in science communication.

Favorite quote: “Headfirst towards the uncomfortable” – Brent Filkowski


Chris Smith, Ph.D.

5th-year postdoctoral research fellow, Vanderbilt University
Hobbies: reading (fiction and non-fiction, part of 3 book clubs), photography, watching sports, trying to keep up with the multiple shows and programming available on TV

I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University. My research focuses on neuroscience, particularly understanding individual differences in dopamine signaling in the brain and its effect on human behavior. I love the science I do as I believe by understanding variability in human biology, we can ultimately create and utilize more personalized treatments for a variety of psychiatric diseases including drug addiction, Schizophrenia, and ADHD.

I have a strong interest in communicating science and have written blog pieces for Health:Further, an organization in Nashville targeted at improving the healthcare industry, as well as profiles on training programs and other resources for the National Postdoctoral Association’s newsletter, The POSTDOCket.

Favorite quote: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein


Blaide Woodburn

2nd-year Ph.D. candidate, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Hobbies: Powerlifting, Rugby, Hiking, Nutrition Coaching, Writing

My relationship with science has been 23 years in the making. I was born with a rare metabolic disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU) which, due to a non-functioning enzyme, restricts me to a very low-protein diet. Growing up my diet was always extremely limited, gaining muscle was a challenge, and I yearned to know exactly how my body was different from others’. An early introduction to human biochemistry and metabolism ignited my interest in science, and I never looked back. What started out as a mere desire to understand my body flourished into a passion for understanding the intricacies of human disease.

This explains why much of my research experience has been rather translational; as close to the bedside as I can get without wearing a stethoscope. From investigating Parkinson’s Disease and brain cancer to my current work modeling NeuroHIV, I’ve always enjoyed participating in research that aims to address the most puzzling enigmas in disease pathology.

In the future, I hope to transition out of the lab into a role as a life science consultant, medical science liaison, or science writer where I can use my knowledge about various diseases to inform decisions related to drug development.

My NIH BEST posts will log my journey as I prepare for these possible career paths; plus some other articles generally related to being a graduate student. For the successes, the pitfalls, and everything in between, I hope you’ll join me!

Favorite quote: “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” – Socrates


Tessa Lynch-Colameta

3rd-year Ph.D. candidate, University of Chicago Department of Chemistry
Hobbies: Traveling, cooking, and watching Netflix with my two cats

My research focuses on the development of new synthetic methods with applications to the total syntheses of complex natural products. Before moving to Chicago, I received my B.A./M.A. in Chemistry from Boston University.

My love for science began at a young age due to my strong sense of curiosity and desire to advance society as a whole. Outside of the lab,  I am the administrative coordinator of the Women in Chemistry group at my university. In this role, I advocate for diversity in STEM.

Despite being a synthetically trained organic chemist, I have explored a wide array of career options outside of the traditional academic/industrial track and look forward to sharing my experiences with you!

Favorite quote: “Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien


Michael Harris, Ph.D.

1st-year Postdoctoral research fellow, Johns Hopkins University
Hobbies: Ultramarathons and reading lots of books

I recently moved (back) to the US to work as a postdoc at Johns Hopkins University. My current research is focused on understanding the role of the immune response in cancer progression and metastasis. In previous scientific lives, I have worked in plant science, developmental biology, and conservation biology. I love science because it provides a philosophy for interpreting the natural world and because of the thrill that comes with discovery. In participating in scientific outreach and communication, I hope that I can convey this sense of wonder to a wider audience and encourage more people to think about things from a scientific perspective.

Favorite Quote: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.” – T.E. Lawrence


Karen Clothier

5th-year Ph.D. candidate, Johns Hopkins University
Hobbies: I like meeting new people, drinking wine and eating gooey cheese with my friends, and doing any fiber craft I can get my hands on (knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery…).
Pronouns: she, her, hers.

In my dissertation research, I have synthesized a range of formal linguistic theories to develop an account of the class of so-called vague, ambiguous quantifiers, like “many.” I am now developing experimental methods to test the predictions that my theory makes. All that is to say, I’m trying to figure out what exactly people mean when they use “many,” and why it can be used in such seemingly vague and ambiguous ways. This fundamental work might eventually inform Natural Language Processing for Artificial Intelligence or even help develop strategies for helping individuals with communication disorders.

In this ever more interconnected and fast-changing world, I think it is critical that the people who have the skills, expertise, and detailed understanding of complex systems, like the human brain, work to involve the public by communicating the science that we do, how we do it, and why we do it. So, for my professional development, I’m trying to explore various career paths that will allow me to do that. Whether this is through science writing, education, community outreach, or policy advocacy. I also want to support my peers to enable them to do the best research they can do, so I am also interested in career paths that will allow me to advocate for better resources and programs that support and encourage diversity and success for early career scientists.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you!

Favorite Quote: >How could I pick just [one](


Adriana Bankston, Ph.D.

Associate Director of Fundraising and Strategic Initiatives, Future of Research
Hobbies: Photography, movies, and dogs

I am a skeletal muscle biologist by training. I have the overall goal of improving the biomedical research enterprise. During my transition out of academia, I developed an interest in training early-career scientists and advocating for policies that affect them. Over the last several years, I have been involved with various non-profit organizations working on these goals. I am currently the Associate Director of Fundraising and Strategic Initiatives at Future of Research (FoR), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to champion, engage, and empower early career scientists with evidence-based resources to improve the scientific research endeavor. Within FoR, my goal is to increase transparency on issues affecting early career scientists, empower them to speak up for changes in the research enterprise, and enable them to utilize their talents to benefit society.

Favorite quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


Wangui Mbuguiro

2nd-year Ph.D. candidate, Johns Hopkins University
Hobbies: Breakfast eating, running near water, and reading something science-y, historical, or poetry

My first science project was investigating the effects of shampoo on hair. My 8th-grade lab was my bathroom. My only tool was a plastic, neon-colored microscope. I don’t remember what discoveries I made, but I do remember believing the world was a great mystery, and that science could give me some of the tools to understand it.

My science interests have since evolved and now focus on women’s health, specifically, diseases such as endometriosis and fibroids, which can cause abnormal bleeding, excessive pain, fertility issues, and more. I am fascinated by the molecular variations that exist not only between people with and without these diseases, but also between two people with the same diagnosis. Coming into my Ph.D., I transitioned from a predominantly “wet” to “dry” lab in computational biology. I currently work to develop new tools to help make sense of these differences.

My posts will surround my early Ph.D. experiences, including perspectives on structuring graduate training, community science and education, and early career exploration.

Favorite quote: “If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise” -Rupi Kaur
“The risk I took was calculated, but man, am I bad at math” – meme

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