Student Spotlight​​

Leeran Blythe Dublin

Developmental, Regenerative, and Stem Cell Biology, incoming class 2014, lab of Dr. Heather True

What is your educational/professional background?
I received a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Kentucky University in May of 2014.

Why did you choose to attend Washington University DBBS?
What is your favorite part about pursuing your PhD training here?
I chose to attend Washington University in St. Louis because DBBS is very supportive of students. I was an Amgen Scholar at WashU before coming here for grad school and saw then that DBBS really cares about the students and their happiness. When I interviewed the older graduate students told me about how the coordinators support them throughout graduate school by helping them find housing, arranging tutors for classes they struggle with, setting up advising appointments, assigning student mentors to new students, and more. I also learned about the student run seminar programs that allow students to present to one another and offer feedback. Also, the students told me about the different student groups they participate in, including BALSA, which allows students to get consulting experience, and YSP, which allows students to teach and mentor high school students.​

What research are you currently working on?
I study protein folding fidelity and prion formation in yeast. The NAC (nascent polypeptide-associated complex) is positioned at the ribosome exit tunnel and the first point of contact for newly synthesized proteins. While NAC deletion is embryonically lethal in higher order eukaryotes, our lab has found that NAC partial deletion in yeast leads to protection against prion-induced toxicity, reduction of nascent prion formation, and impaired prion subunit joining. My research explores the mechanisms by which NAC deletion leads to better protein folding and the extent to which NAC deletion is protective of protein folding fidelity.

Are you involved in any student groups, volunteer work or other ventures outside of the lab?
I am Co-President of Connections, a diversity and inclusion student initiative that seeks to improve the experience of those in our community through disseminating knowledge and engaging in intergroup dialogue on topics of diversity. Connections hosts one lecture and one intergroup dialogue meeting a month focused on a social justice issue, such as mass incarceration, health disparities, first generation college students, systemic racism, and diversity in biomedical research. I truly believe that by educating our community on social justice issues we build a better environment for all, which leads to better and more efficient scientific discovery.

What is your favorite part about living in St. Louis? 
Right now I live in the metro east, however for three years I lived in the city and still love going out in The Grove, which is the "gayborhood" of St. Louis. Being able to socialize with other lgbtqia folx in my city is so empowering and affirming. I also love spending time in Tower Grove park and the surrounding shops and restaurants. There is a great variety of cuisine and culture to explore in Tower Grove.

What hobbies do you enjoy?
I love hanging out with my labradoodle Rainer, playing board and card games with friends, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

What is your favorite quote?
I love Maya Angelou and so here are some of my favorite quotes by her: "We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike." "Nothing will work unless you do." "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

Is a hot dog a sandwich?
NO! You can't cut it in half.

Who is your biggest role model?
As a non-binary individual it has been very difficult to find people to look up to who reflect my identity. However, I have found that most of my role models are women, people in the queer community, and people of color, because I know they all had to overcome barriers to get to the positions they are in today. One of my biggest role models is Dr. Sharon Milgram, the Director of the Office of Intramural Training and Education at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Milgram encourages young scientists to pursue their dreams and see their identities as strengths in that pursuit. She has encouraged me to explore my interests in science, teaching, and diversity and find career paths that fulfill me, instead of pursuing a specific career because it is "safe" or seen as the "right" path for someone with a PhD. My PI Dr. Heather True is also an exceptional role model for me. Heather sees PhD training as much more than learning how to do research. She considers what training I need to go on to the next step in my career and encourages me to seek out opportunities to get that training. She has made sure I have had opportunities to mentor students, get experience teaching, and think critically about my project in order to propel it forward.

What career would you like to pursue after completing your PhD training?
I am interested in teaching science, developing curriculum, and designing diversity programming for the scientific community at the college level.

What advice would you give to prospective graduate students?
Graduate school is full of ups and downs. Make sure to surround yourself with friends from within and also outside of your scientific community. It is great to have friends to talk about your science with; it is also great to forget about your science for a little while with other friends. I love science and have loved my graduate school experience, but there are extreme ups and downs that are made easier by having non-scientist friends.

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