If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “I always forget you’re not a full-time blogger”, I may not need to work in science OR blogging to fund my love of coffee, travel, and vintage clothing. Although the content I post on here and Instagram often center around those three things, I wanted to take time to talk about what often goes unmentioned: my day job. Well, what was my day job and is soon to be a full-time PhD program! I was at a happy hour with some fellow creatives and bloggers when my good friend Marisa asked if I had ever posted about my day job.
I don’t talk about it much outside my Instagram Stories because when at work, I’m busy. When I leave, my brain shift gears to more a more creative, less data and protocol-driven mindset; but I sometimes forget that as a creative, my career in science is an integral part of my brand. Like many of you reading this post, I wake up, go to work, pack my lunch, sit in meetings, and look forward to 5PM. The only difference is that once I leave lab, I pour energy into this platform – photoshoots, writing posts, sending emails, and attending events. So if you didn’t know, blogging is not my full-time job but rather a side hustle and passion pursuit; truth is that science and blogging coexist in my life but there would be no Stylishly Taylored if it weren’t for science.
For my undergraduate education, I majored in Biomedical Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology. I graduated from my program with a 3.75/4.0 GPA, matriculating early from the Honors Program with magna cum laude distinctions. I held positions in multiple extracurriculars – Zeta Tau Alpha, Teaching Assistant, Premedical Students Association, National Society of Collegiate Scholars. I also spent the summer between my junior and senior years as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow at the Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville Campus. I worked in a lab studying Parkinson’s Disease.
Those 10 weeks at the Mayo Clinic taught me two important lessons: 1) Florida is entirely too humid for this Northeasterner 2) biomedical research was the perfect balance of mental stimulation, challenge, and reward I wanted in my life. So much so, I decided to pursue more of it after graduation.
My intent when moving to Baltimore was to 1) gain more research experience 2) study for the MCAT and 3) bulk up my CV with a few more publications before applying to medical school. Growing up I was always interested in science, and I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. I grew up in a family afflicted by multiple psychiatric conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, and types of cancer. But instead of resenting the diseases or circumstances, I was empowered by the awareness and perspective it provided me, awareness and perspective I wanted to apply to diagnosing, treating, and interacting with patients. But after a year of working in translational research, discussing career plans with doctors, and enjoying my life outside of work, I realized that medical school had quickly become a goal rather than a dream. I was honest with myself; my head was no longer in the same place as my heart. Cue the fluidity of life.
What I Do: Translated
For you to understand my research interests, I need to give you a few definitions. Not all research is the same. Basic, clinical, and translational research are the three most common types of academic research (done at institutions like Johns Hopkins instead of at private companies.) This article defines the three pretty well. My research interests (and experiences) are in the realm of translational research. In its simplest form, translational research is: applying our knowledge of cells, pathways, and body systems to inform and treat patients (new drugs, therapies) in a clinical setting (hospital, doctor’s office, etc.)
I moved to Baltimore to work in the The Cutting Lab with the Institute of Genetic Medicine, a lab that studies the molecular genetics of cystic fibrosis (CF). Cystic fibrosis is a genetic, multi-system disorder that effects the lungs, pancreas, and other vital organs. If you remember back to biology class, you inherit DNA from your parents. Located in that DNA are genes; in this case, you can think of the gene as a set of instructions. Genes are the instructions for the body to produce biological molecules, like proteins, enzymes, etc.
In the case of cystic fibrosis, patients with CF have two bad copies of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene. We refer to the gene as CFTR. And the CFTR gene instructs the body to produce a protein with the same name, CFTR.
Imagine this: You buy a piece of furniture. You have to rely solely on the instructions to assemble the item, but some of the words are misspelled, backwards or a step is missing. Now, you still might be able to assemble the piece of furniture (with a missing screw or attachment); or to avoid wasting needless energy on an incorrectly assembled product, you keep the parts but never make a functional product. Depending on which mistake is seen in the instructions – misspelling, backwards word, or missing step – you’re either left with 1) an incorrectly assembled piece of furniture or 2) no finished piece of furniture at all.
Now imagine the instructions are your CFTR gene, and the resulting furniture (or lack-thereof) is your CFTR protein. Changes in the CFTR gene can result in a wonky CFTR protein. And when the CFTR protein doesn’t function correctly, patients develop cystic fibrosis. As of right now, there are 1600+ changes that are reported in the CFTR gene. Some changes create an incorrectly assembled product, some create no product at all; and some changes (like misspellings) in the gene don’t result in a patient developing cystic fibrosis at all.
The majority of the work I contributed to in the Cutting Lab was looking at these changes to determine what they do to the final product, the CFTR protein. Does the change result in an incorrectly assembled protein? Does the change result in no functional protein at all? Through a series of studies, we are able to make disease-liability calls on these changes, determining if a change’s effect(s) are disease-causing, not disease-causing, or unknown. All of this data is highly curated on a database/website run in-part by our lab, CFTR2.org.
Understanding the result of changes in the CFTR gene is important for many reasons. Most recently, through these studies, we’ve been able to identify which changes should respond to currently available medications. Some of these mutations are so rare that only 10 people in the world carry them. Due to global location and other logistical challenges, it’s not always feasible to conduct a clinical study on these patients; so we study these changes in isolation. In a cell system that best mimics the relevant cellular environment inside the human body. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has begun considering these functional studies in the process of approving specific drugs for specific variants in the CFTR gene. THIS IS HUGE. This means that with this data, in conjunction with clinical trial data, more patients have the potential for treatment. To feel better, to improve lung function, to live longer.
If you’d like to read more of the work I’ve helped with during my time in the Cutting Lab, you can check out the following publications:
- Residual function of cystic fibrosis mutants predicts response to small molecule CFTR modulators
- Functional Assays Are Essential for Interpretation of Missense Variants Associated with Variable Expressivity
- Systematic Computational Identification of Variants That Activate Exonic and Intronic Cryptic Splice Sites
- A sequence upstream of canonical PDZ-binding motif within CFTR COOH-terminus enhances NHERF1 interaction
- Loss of carbonic anhydrase XII function in individuals with elevated sweat chloride concentration and pulmonary airway disease
Why It Matters
Through my job in the Cutting Lab, I learned a lot about genetics, the current state of disease research, and our attempts to find efficacious treatments for patients. I like to think I’ve helped generate data that will help patients get prescribed effective treatments – doctors aren’t the only ones saving lives. My experiences have further motivated me to start graduate school at Johns Hopkins in hopes of contributing to society’s understanding of cellular pathways that lead to disease — and ultimately, use that information to uncover ideal targets for developing therapeutics.
I advocate for fulfilling your life with those things that bring you happiness, purpose, content, joy, etc. Personally, that includes both experimenting and exercising the creative side of my brain. Maintaining a work-life balance is meaningful to me so I’ve continued to prioritize time management.
Why am I telling you this? Because there would be no Stylishly Taylored, no photo shoots, no events, no new connections, shared experiences, spontaneous adventures without my love for science. The passion to pursue those things which fulfill my days, such as biomedical research, is what brought me to Baltimore. It is that same passion that lead me to start blogging and giving others insight into the ways I interact with local brands, events, and people around me. Together, they influence how I see the city, and how the city sees me.
As a result, I’ve become extremely encouraging of anyone with passions (plural), but I’ve become an advocate for the duality of women. It is our job as community members, mentors, friends, parents to encourage children to be practical without compromising authenticity. It’s ok to have a plan 1a and 1b. If it works for you and makes you happy, by all means, continue. I love the intellectual challenge of a career in science, but I also love dressing up, attending events, going out to dinner with friends, and drinking champagne.
Society has a way of telling us we need to fit into boxes. I’m not one to preach from the rooftops, rather I strive to serve as an example to other women that you are not limited. You are entitled to passions, and you owe it to yourself to follow them. Leisurely or otherwise. The tricky part is reminding yourself you can’t give 100% to everything all at once; it’s give and take. Be in the present. Failure will happen. But I promise it’s all worth it in the end.
Until next time, stay passionate.