Cells are constantly communicating with one another through molecular signaling pathways. This information tells cells where to go, when to divide, and how to behave. When these signals are misregulated, various problems can result, including birth defects and cancer. I study how molecular signals are relayed at the cell surface, with hopes of understanding cellular communication in development and disease.
I find it fascinating that embryonic development and cancer are essentially the same thing. The same signals that cause embryos to grow super quickly also cause tumors to grow super quickly. These signals are just turned on at the wrong time. If we can understand how these signals are regulated, we can develop tools to keep cancer cells in check.
For me, research and teaching are both very exciting. Research allows you to be the very first person to know something, which is the coolest feeling in the world! However, research can be very challenging, frustrating, and sometimes mundane. Teaching can also be challenging, but I really love thinking about how to engage students the material in new and interesting ways and how to creatively present information. I am at my best when I am doing both research and teaching, so that when one area becomes a struggle, I can take a break and shift my focus to the other.
I love working in the CDB department at the University of Michigan because of its open, collaborative, and down-to-earth nature. The faculty are friendly, approachable, and easy to talk to, and I don't feel stupid asking them questions. We share equipment and ideas in a professional, respectful way. It’s thrilling to know that any experiment I can think of is possible because someone in the department probably has experience with that technique, and they are more than likely willing to help. Instead of being limited by the questions you can ask, you're really limited by the time you have to ask them.