About Jessica 🧬

I received an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree with Distinction in Biological Sciences from the University of Delaware (UD). In addition to writing an honors thesis during my undergraduate, I participated in two summer internships at Merck in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Vaccines. Currently, I am a fifth year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan (U-M) in the Molecular and Cellular Pathology program. My dissertation research in the DiFeo Lab is investigating the mechanism of a novel ovarian cancer therapeutic.

How I began my scientific career:

When I started college, I was really excited about biology. However, I wasn’t sure where it would take me. As a sophomore, joining a research lab introduced me to scientific research as a profession, which gave me the direction I needed.

With one year of lab experience under my belt, I made a point to secure a summer research opportunity that would fulfill my curiosity about molecular biology techniques. My internship at Merck was a phenomenal opportunity to become familiar with new techniques, technologies, and career paths. Importantly, the professional network that I formed at Merck connected me with scientists who shared life experience and career advice.

It humbled me to be invited to return to Merck for a second internship. In parallel with ongoing experiments, I met with colleagues over lunch to seek advice about graduate school. These conversations shaped my values surrounding graduate education and narrowed the list of schools to

which I applied. All the while, my experiences at Merck brought to light my interest in translational research. U-M’s Molecular and Cellular Pathology program has a strong focus on translational research, making it the perfect home for my Ph.D. pursuit.

Throughout these experiences, it became more and more evident that science communication was underrepresented. Before UD, I didn’t know that “scientist” was a profession. Before Merck, I didn’t know that graduate school was paid training. Before U-M, I didn’t know that specific resources were available to prepare scientists for sharing their research with the public. The delay in receiving such valuable information emphasized to me the necessity for science communication. This inspired me to take action.

The impact of scientific outreach:

Undoubtedly, access to the right resources and to inspiring mentors equipped me with ample familiarity to begin a career in science. Starting my Ph.D. at Michigan made me reflect on how far I had come and that I could not have succeeded without supportive mentors. This reflection motivated me to pay it forward through scientific outreach. 

Several programs affiliated with the University of Michigan allowed me to engage with the local community and undergraduates across the country without access to research. In 2019, I was accepted as a Science Communication Fellow at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. I participate in two key annual events – a tabletop activity within the museum atrium describing DNA organization and 15-minute TED talks in the museum forum highlighting my research. I love interacting with people of all ages, but I especially desired to interact with undergraduates exploring careers. Just as my mentors introduced me to the world of science, I wanted to expose other young, curious minds.

For two years I served as an instructor for Developing Future Biologists, an organization that creates an annual one-week, all-expenses-paid, immersive short course for underrepresented students who lack access to research in developmental biology. Leading up to the course, we design the didactic coursework, professional development workshops, and hands-on wet lab modules. DFB now offers summer research fellowships, teaching assistantships, and conference travel awards for its alumni. In addition to the customary instructor responsibilities, I also led treasury efforts to secure $51,000 for DFB’s initiatives. While DFB was forced to host virtual courses in 2020 and 2021, I maintained connection with the students through Slack channels and virtual office hours. In its nine years, DFB has produced 200 undergraduate alumni, with over 25 DFB alumni who are pursuing graduate training in biomedical research. Another instructor and I published an article in Development that describes DFB in detail to encourage launching at other universities and to expand our communal impact. DFB has helped cast my net beyond what I would have been capable of on my own.

Finally, I built this website to also provide guidance for graduate students to improve their science communication skills and and serve as a resource for the public to engage with scientists and read about exciting scientific findings. My efforts in scientific outreach have been recognized through the inaugural Molecular & Cellular Pathology Outstanding Service Award.

Personal updates:

June 2023:
•Winner of the inaugural Rogel Cancer Center Three Minute Thesis competition at the University of Michigan

May 2023:
•Awarded the Mass Professional Development Grant to support the hosting and domain name of this website.

April 2023:
•Presented my thesis research at the American Association for Cancer Research 2023 in Orlando, FL. Expenses were support by two travel grants.

January 2023:
•Co-first author publication, “Developing Future Biologists: developmental biology for undergraduates from underserved communities” published in Development.
•Completed a second miLEAD project, conducting market research for a new therapeutic preparing for clinical trials. Excellent performance as a consultant led to my promotion of Project Manager.

November 2022:
Received the Outstanding Service Award at the 21st Annual Pathology Research Symposium for my science outreach.

July 2022:
Awarded NIH National Cancer Institute F31 to support the remainder of my Ph.D. training and research.

June 2022:
Succeeded in my first 8-week miLEAD project as a consultant conducting primary research. Obtained a record breaking amount of interviews (53) as a team, with a personal response rate of 49%, totaling to 23 interviews.

April 2022:
•Presented a poster at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2022 in New Orleans, LA. Travel supported through the Molecular & Cellular Pathology and Rackham Conference Travel Awards.
•Accepted into miLEAD Consulting Group, a professional development nonprofit that trains scientists to apply their problem-solving skills in business settings.

December 2021:
Began a long-term experiment of raising a maltese-poodle mix puppy, Juniper! Great results so far.

November 2021:
Second author on “Transplacental Antibody Transfer of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Specific IgG in Non-Human Primate Mother-Infant Pairs”, work from my second Merck internship, published in Pathogens.

July 2021:
Awarded the Rogel Cancer Center Program in Biomedical Sciences Scholarship.

June 2021:
Head PI on successful American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Public Engagement Grant ($35,000) for June 2021-June 2022 to support the 2022 Developing Future Biologist course & new long-term initiatives.

December 2020:
First-author review, “The Molecular ‘Myc-anisms’ Behind Myc-Driven Tumorigenesis and the Relevant Myc-Directed Therapeutics”, published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

November 2020:
Received “Best Poster” Award at the 19th Annual Pathology Research Symposium, University of Michigan.

June 2020:
Co-author on “miR-181a initiates and perpetuates oncogenic transformation through the regulation of innate immune signaling”, published in Nature Communications.

December 2019:
Officially a Ph.D. Candidate!

November 2019:
•Presented at the 2019 Training Program in Translational Research Retreat: “Efficacy of amiodarone derivatives in the treatment of ovarian cancer.”
•Onboarded as a Developing Future Biologists (DFB) instructors. DFB is a one-week, fully paid, immersive short course for underrepresented students and/or students from primarily-undergraduate institutions that lack access to research. Together, DFB instructors design the course structure, wet labs, and professional development opportunities. Additionally, instructors curate and implement long-term mentoring programs including workshops, conference attendance awards, teaching assistantships, and summer research opportunities. 

August 2019:
Received the Rackham Pre-Candidate Graduate Student Grant.

July 2019:
Received an NIH T32 Grant: Training Program in Translational Research to support my training and research for 2 years.

April 2019:
•Joined the DiFeo Lab for my dissertation research.
•Completed “Science Communication Fellows” Program through U-M’s Museum of Natural History.

July 2019:
Began a summer lab rotation before official commencement of the Ph.D. program in September.

The views expressed on this website are mine alone and do not represent the views of my current or past employers.