I graduated from Colby College (Waterville, Maine) in 2013 where I earned a B.A. with Honors in Biology: Cell and Molecular Biology/Biochemistry and minored in Chemistry. My honors thesis [link] was conducted in the Millard lab [link], focusing on the cytotoxicity and biochemical properties for a class of anti-tumor chemotherapeutics known as bifunctional alkylating agents. These compounds form strong (covalent) bonds between complementary strands of DNA, slowing/preventing additional cell growth. Ironically, these compounds can also be carcinogenic and are common byproducts of cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, and industrial waste. My work focused on determining the smallest required dose to slow cell growth in cultured leukemia (HL60) cells, and identifying the biomarkers associated with the mechanism of cell death.
Graduate (M.Sc., Ph.D.)
Immediately following my time at Colby, I began my graduate work in the Rand lab [link] in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology [link] at Brown University. I was able to build on my wet lab and analytical skills, and dive deeper into statistics, computational biology, and automated image analysis as I addressed a central question in biology: how does genotype affect phenotype?
Combining my academic interests in genetics and organismal biology with my personal interests in exercise and athletics, I was able to answer this question using Drosophila (fruit flies). Flies are a great genetic model and can be used to study exercise through climbing performance, or energetically demanding traits, like flight (fun fact, insect flight is among the most energetically demanding in the animal kingdom [link]). Accordingly, I used flies to look at these phenotypes separately in my dissertation: “The genetic architecture of flight and climbing performance in Drosophila melanogaster”–available soon through the Brown University Digital Repository.
In addition to my graduate work, I was also a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (NSF-IGERT) Fellow [link]. This program brought graduate students and faculty together from biology, geology, and mathematics to answer student-inspired questions in Reverse Ecology. This field uses genomic approaches to understand the genetic basis of functional variation in a natural setting. My cohort focused on a mind-controlling host-parasite interaction between an amphipod and trematode [link]. I also assisted with analyses for the following years’ cohort, studying the metagenome of bacteria in sediment cores of a New England salt pond [link].
As part of my dissertation work, I developed two programs to advance my research. First, I developed FreeClimber, an analytical platform to efficiently and effectively quantify the climbing velocity for a group of flies. This Python-based platform circumvents systematic biases inherently present in manually analyzing climbing assay data in flies, while promoting repeatability and saving time in the process. It was recently awarded the 2020 Library Innovation Prize for Innovations in Research Rigor, Transparency or Reproducibility in the Life and Physical Sciences [link]. I also created a novel application of the human-focused, precise, efficient gene association score using SNPs (PEGASUS) platform [link | link] for Drosophila, called PEGASUS_flies [link]. This R-based platform calculates gene-wide significance scores from Genome Wide Association P-value scores and allows researchers to better analyze different aspects of the genetic architecture of a complex trait.
In addition to these publishable programs, I write my own personal-use programs for automating data collection in Python using a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, and running high performance computing jobs on Brown University’s supercomputer [link].