BY: Mikaela Dunkin
EDUCATION: B.S. in Microbiology from California State University, Long Beach. Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics & Microbiology from Stony Brook University
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Host and pathogen interactions, with a focus on immune responses. She currently works to uncover the role of a protein coding gene, Interferon Induced Protein With Tetratricopeptide Repeats 3 (IFIT3), in Adenovirus replication. By understanding how this protein blocks viral replication, Aniska can develop therapeutics against these pathogens.
FUTURE GOALS: I would love to work in research and development in industry, specifically on developing novel therapeutics for existing diseases. My other goal is to apply for a Clinical Microbiology fellowship and eventually be the director of a clinical lab.
Why did you want to be a part of GWiSE?
I want to be a part of GWiSE because it provides a platform and a safe space to discuss issues that affect women in science. Throughout this experience I have met and I am sure will continue to meet a lot of amazing people from whom I can learn a lot and hopefully share these wonderful experiences with.
What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science and engineering?
I think this problem requires a two-part solution. First, as a society we have too many gender stereotypes that define and shape who we become from a young age. We still have a preconceived notion of a blue and pink binary system where we affiliate legos and trains with boys and barbie dolls with girls. Based on these early experiences, we begin to shape our future. It is for this reason I think it important to provide the tools and the space needed for girls at a young age to explore their interest in STEM fields. We additionally need to reinforce that failure is part of the learning process; I don’t feel that anyone can honestly say they haven’t failed before.
The second part of this answer focuses more on higher educational systems. We need to dismantle the current structure and start anew. We need more women in places of leadership as this helps bring in different perspectives and address problems from the standpoint of women. This would also provide much needed role models for young aspiring scientists. As a society we see an increased percent of women in the STEM fields but as you climb the ladder you realize this number drastically drops, in part to the poor work-life balance provided by different institutions. Unfortunately no one can change biology, women have to carry a child to term; however, it does not state that we have to be sole caregivers. We need better maternity and paternity leave, as well as community support for people to achieve their full potential. This support should come from both women and MEN.
What is one achievement that you are proud of?
Every year my department, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, hosts a retreat to highlight research in our department and also award people who have had outstanding performances throughout the year. One of the student awards is the Teresa Haire Award, which is given to students that demonstrate a passion for research, excellence as a teaching assistant, has demonstrated resilience in graduate school, or is a leader among his or her peers. After a few mediocre reviews from students, which led to a constant battle with myself on my scientific abilities, I was truly honored to receive the award this year.
If your childhood had a smell, what would it be?
Popcorn, growing up I spent a lot of time at my maternal Grandmother’s house. At exactly 4:30 every afternoon my Grandma would make popcorn and tea and call all the kids in the house for a snack. It was a tradition that we followed till I moved to the United States when I was 17 years old. Whenever I travel back home it was something I always looked forward to, my Grandma is not with us anymore but the memories live on, especially when I smell popcorn.
Who got you interested in your field?
Growing up in a third world country, the lack of proper healthcare was always obvious to me. When I initially began my journey in college I was very determined to study medicine and become a doctor. However that journey took a turn when I joined the research lab of Dr. Haas-Stapleton for experience. I became fascinated with uncovering the unknown versus memorizing what others had already discovered. Apart from joining the lab I also took my very first Microbiology class and it was like fate, I couldn’t quite phatom how something so small could cause so much destruction. At this point I realized I wanted to understand host-pathogen interactions at the molecular level and figure out what is really going on in the body during an infection.
What is one of your most treasured experiences?
I would have to say that my most treasured experiences are the times I spent with the gentlest of giants in my home town in Livingstone, Zambia. Elephants are normally ostracized because of their huge size and also poached at high rates for the ivory. I have always loved animals and elephants are on the top of my list of favorites. The fact that I get to interact with these beautiful creatures is something out the world and words truly cannot describe the feeling. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to interact with them.