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Women in Science: Nicole talks about her Microbiology & Immunology program

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Nicole Haese is a graduate student and is also the Treasurer of the UNDWIS student group.

What is your field of science?

I am graduate student in the Microbiology and Immunology department, my research focuses around the subject of Immunology.

Can you describe your research?

I started out my research focusing on autoimmunity and ways to prevent the body from seeing itself as foreign. Specifically I am interested in the role immature dendritic cells play in tolerizing the immune system to antigens. It has been shown in the past that the protection conferred by immature dendritic cells is specific to the disease causing antigen. That is the antigen that the body attacks as foreign and causes diseases, if you treat immature dendritic cells with the antigen and give them to a mouse with the autoimmune disease, it has the potential to decrease the severity or delay the onset of symptoms. Previous work done in my lab suggested that the tolerance induced by immature dendritic cells may be antigen non-specific, and that protection can be induced by presentation of a tissue-associated antigen. I am working on further developing this idea by obtaining data from another autoimmune model.

Another project I am working on is developing a hybridoma to produce a monoclonal antibody using the B-cells from goose blood. The reason for using goose blood is to make a hybridoma that secretes IgY, an avian antibody. IgY is the primary avian antibody, it is similar to human IgG. The advantages of using IgY are that it does not interact with Fc receptors on host cells therefore activation of complement and rheumatoid factor are not an issue. In other words, IgY does not have to be humanized before being used in humans. Also, IgY has a higher avidity for antigens than IgG, meaning it will bind mores sites on an antigen. Right now I am working on the protocol for making such a hybridoma. It is thought that in the future antibodies will be able to be made against toxins produced by bacteria, and also viruses.

How important is mentorship in the development of young scientists?

I think that mentorship is important in the development of young scientists because science is not just about learning the information and taking a test. Science is about applying knowledge, which at times can be difficult. Looking at it from a research point of view, mentorship is important to help prevent the small bumps in the road from causing huge meltdowns. A majority of the time things do not work and it is much easier to keep going when there is someone to turn to, who has been through the same thing, that can say it will be okay and things will work out. There are also so many different aspects of life that are affected by research, personal life, social life, family life, and personal sanity. The library does not have a book to teach how to deal with those parts of life in the science field. One of the best ways to learn about how to deal with the non-science part of being a scientist is by talking with other people. When I started my graduate work I had a million questions, and I felt lost for quite a while. I think that mentorship would have helped me with the transition into becoming a graduate student and will help with future transitions. All in all, mentorship can provide a source of support, information, or just friendship to young scientists.

Do you feel there are still stereotypes surrounding women in the sciences?

Yes, I feel that there are stereotypes surrounding women in the sciences. I grew up in a very small farming town. One of the main career choices was agriculture. I grew up on a farm, but sure did not have the desire to spend the rest of my life raising cows and driving a tractor. There was not much of a focus on science in my high school years of education, but I feel that it was somewhat biased. In high school, all of the math and sciences teachers were male. Some of the teachers assumed that girls did not have much interest in science. I do not think the message was women are not as good at science and math, it was that, women belonged in a different field, maybe they could be a nurse, but that was it. I fell in love with science during my freshman year in high school. My freshman biology class was taught by a new teacher, one of his first teaching jobs. Most people did not like him as a teacher because he made us work really hard, but I thought it was all interesting. I became especially interested in genetics and how easy it was to see the connection between science and human life. This is what inspired me to get my undergraduate degree in cytogenetic technology.

Looking at the stereotypes of women in science at thing point in my career, the view is different. I do not think that the overall message is that women are unable to succeed in science. There are definitely a lot of female graduate students in the sciences, there are plenty of assistant and associated professors that are females, but there are not as many heads of departments or higher that are women. At some point in their career most women make a choice to either have a family or not, and I think that plays a big role in the lower numbers of women holding higher offices. It is no secret that being a head of a department and raising a family both take a lot of time, and sometimes sacrificing one or the other is not worth it.

What barriers have you had to overcome?

I have been fortunate in that I have not had to overcome many barriers to get to my current position. I had very supportive parents who pushed me to be successful and do whatever it is I wanted to do. During my undergraduate education I had a very very supportive research advisor who provided me with many opportunities to succeed in my research. She inspired me to pursue my PhD in Microbiology and Immunology and continues to be a person I turn to.

Written by School of Graduate Studies

October 5, 2011 at 8:02 am

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  1. […] Nicole Haese, Microbiology & Immunology […]

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