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#SciComm: Featuring Kimberly from @thepathPhD

Posted by Applied Biological Materials (abm) on Jan 7, 2022

We recognize science can seem difficult to young scientists, and we hope to raise awareness about people who make it fun and accessible to broader audiences through social media, #SciComm!

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Meet Kimberly! a passionate neuropathology PhD student studying the role of tau in development and disease. Her channel @thepathphd! features pathology-related content, how to videos for culturing cells, her life and work experiences and much more! Read on to find out about her advice for aspiring scientists, as well as how to deal with failures and maintain a work-life balance.



@thepathphd portrait


When and how did you know that you wanted to pursue neuropathology? Can you briefly talk about the research you are working on? What made you start your own channel @thepathPhD”?

When I was in my sophomore year of college, I did a neuropathology internship that was my first exposure to the field. I absolutely loved learning about the brain🧠 and how disease changed it. I’ve always been fascinated by disease, so learning that I could pursue this as a career was a huge eye-opener for me.

My research today looks at a protein called tau, which is implicated in several diseases called tauopathies. The most well-known of these is Alzheimer’s disease, but there are so many others, including frontotemporal dementias, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and Pick’s disease. My project is focused on exploring what about tau is different in each disease. Ultimately, I hope to better understand what determines why tau causes one disease over another.

I started my page because I have so much passion for my field✨. There are thousands of dementia researchers across the globe, but very few really know what the pathology behind the disease they study actually looks like. I wanted to present pathology content in layman’s terms, so everyone could see and understand what disease looks like. As my page grew, I expanded to talking about my experience in graduate school, my life with mental illness, and explanations of lab techniques.


What does a typical day in your week look like? And what keeps you going when you are stuck and not able to produce the results/data as expected? How do you deal with failures?

Honestly, there really isn’t a typical week for me. Every week looks vastly different because of the type of work I do! Some of the things I do most weeks, though, include cell culture🧫 to keep my cells alive, bench experiments to look at my protein of interest in my research, looking at slides with my PI to brush up on my neuropathology, and doing outreach to get kids excited about science! I love that my work is so varied each week because it keeps things exciting. Some things can be monotonous, like feeding my cells, so I like to mix in other types of experiments or activities to keep it interesting.

What keeps me going when I’m stuck is that the work I do has real consequences on the lives of people who are affected by these diseases.

The more we can do to understand how neurodegenerative diseases work and why certain people are affected, the better treatments we can develop and the more lives we can change. Failure is really difficult no matter what stage in your career you’re at😞. The best way for me to deal with failure is just to let myself feel whatever emotions I feel. I don’t try to force myself to move on quickly or diminish the feelings I have. Instead, I acknowledge that my feelings are valid and that failing sucks. When I’m ready, I try again and move on, but I don’t ever rush myself through the process💪.

Failure is a huge part of science, but that doesn’t mean we have to be immune to it. We are allowed to feel angry or sad when things fail.


@thepathphd portrait


In your opinion, what 3 things does anyone starting a PhD or a career as a scientist need to know?

Number one is that progress doesn’t always mean producing publishable data.

This isn’t talked about a lot, but it really is something important to know, especially early in your career.

Progress can be troubleshooting a technique, learning a new skill, reading literature in your field, or discussing new directions for a project.

It’s not always going to be a publishable result📊, but that doesn’t mean it’s not progress. Number two is that you’re going to fail a lot. It’s inevitable, and it’s not a reflection on you as a person. That’s just the name of the game in science. Most of your ideas won’t work or will give you an unexplainable result that makes no sense. That’s okay! You only need one good idea to get your degree. Number three is that your PhD doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. There’s a lot of pressure in academia to make big discoveries, but the truth is, most people won’t during their PhD. That’s totally normal. In fact, many people don’t make any life-changing discoveries during their entire career. That doesn’t make you a bad scientist..

The little things we learn along the way lay the critical foundation for future scientists to discover something huge! You don’t need to make it big; you just need to find something new that advanced the field in some way.


thepathphd


The ability to strike a balance between research work and personal life can be challenging. How do you maintain a work-life balance? Can you share some advice on work-life balance to fellow graduates and professional students?

Work-life balance is something I’m still working on, even in my fourth year of graduate school. I think one of the ways I try to keep that balance is by really listening when my husband and support system tell me I’m not balanced. My PI is really good about saying “you haven’t had a day off in a while, how can we adjust your schedule, so you can take off this week?”. When he does, I really listen and take a step back to evaluate my schedule. My husband is also great about planning date nights ❤️ or finding events we can go to in order to help me have some time off!

My biggest piece of advice is that you don’t have to earn rest in grad school. You deserve rest no matter how productive you are, how much you do during the week, or whether or not you checked everything off your to-do list. You don’t need to hit a certain threshold to “earn” a break. You should also use every single vacation day you’re allotted. It’s not dirty to use them or looked down upon. You are a full-time employee and are entitled to those vacation days! My other piece of advice with balance is that it’s not rest if you spend the whole time feeling guilty about not doing work. When you disconnect from work, really disconnect. The guilt prevents rest from being restful!

What would you do differently if you were to start your career now and why?

If I could start over, I would probably become a neuropathologist. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the clinical diagnosis of disease over the last four years of graduate school, and I’m completely in awe of the neuropathologists I get to work with. If I had to do something that wasn’t in science, I’d become an event planner or a writer 📝✍️!



thepathphd


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Since you spend most of your time in the culture lab, what are the 3 tools you cannot work without when culturing cells. What is your favourite cell line to work with and why?

3 tools I could absolutely not work without are my inverted microscope 🔬, which allows me to see what’s going on with my cells, my incubators to keep my cells alive, and my backrest for my chair because I spend long hours in that room!

Although it wasn’t this way for a long time, I’ve grown to love working with stem cells because they’re so versatile! I can make them into so many other types of cells, which I think is incredible.🤩


Tell us a fun fact about yourself 😋!

I’m an award-winning writer ! The first time I won an award for a piece of writing was the 2nd grade. 🙌


What is the most interesting or coolest 😎 thing about your research?

I think the coolest thing about my research is that I get to physically see disease. Not how disease presents with symptoms, but how disease actually physically changes your brain . I’ve been doing this for four years, and I still can’t wrap my head around that!


If you were to write your autobiography, what would it be called?

It would probably be called “I’m fine, this is fine” because I say that at least 10 times a day 😅.


Tell us about any findings from your research that surprised you the most?

We published a paper in 2020 showing that elderly cats 🐈 have similar pathology to humans with Alzheimer’s disease, which is kind of surprising 😮. We know that cats can have cognitive decline with age, but to see that the proteins involved in human diseases are also affecting cats is something we didn’t expect.



Thank you Kimberly for taking part in our #SciComm series and sharing your insights and advice with us 😁! It's fantastic that you're sharing your pathology passion with others in such a unique way! We really enjoyed learning more about you and your research. Visit Kimberly's instagram @thepathphd.



@thepathphd Illustration


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