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Meet Nicole Bush, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University

Meet Nicole Bush!

My name is Nicole Bush, and I am a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, in the department of molecular biology, and specifically in the graduate program Molecules, Cells, and Organisms.

Why did you choose to join a research lab and what has the research, benchwork, or specific techniques taught you about a career in science?

I chose to join a research lab because I absolutely fell in love with the tiny world of molecules and cells, and I thought it was so incredible how scientists were able to discover this complex world of biology. I wanted to learn how science is conducted and see what I could work on and lend my passion to. I think my benchwork has really allowed me to sink in what most people told me to expect from graduate school; that there are a LOT of failures, that it can be incredibly confusing and challenging, and that you get better at it over time. As for a career in science, I think so far my graduate career has shown me that you can do a lot of things with a background in STEM and with a graduate degree. I have learned how to become an expert on a topic, how to design rigorous experiments, and how to troubleshoot when things don’t go as expected, all of which are useful for any career path. This experience has also taught me a lot about myself; how I think and work with others, and what my strengths and weaknesses are.

What have you learned from working in a lab and how has your role contributed to the field of research?

Through working in a lab, I have learned about various techniques and the details of my model organism (C. elegans). In particular, I have spent a lot of my time optimizing CRISPR-based genome modification and tagging a specific protein in the worm. Through that work, I have learned how to decide which experiment is best for certain questions, which was a lot harder than I initially realized. So far, I haven’t contributed anything tangible to my field of research (read: no papers yet), but I am excited to see what comes about in the future.

What are your career goals and how has your research experience helped with this?

My career goals are still becoming fully materialized, as I have a lot of ideas about where my skills and abilities would be best served. I want to stress that it's OK to not know what you want to do! I joined graduate school with the long-term goal to become a professor and run my own lab, and I definitely am still pursuing that idea. However, I don’t want to limit my thinking to only one option and I am enjoying the experience of imagining myself in various different fields. Graduate school is a wonderful opportunity to reflect, learn, and give yourself more time to decide what you would most like to do afterward.

What is the most exciting aspect of the lab you are in? What is the future application of this? What is something that a non-scientist would find interesting/should know about?

My lab uses a tiny (1mm) worm called Caenorhabditis elegans as our model organism. We use this model to probe the incredibly complex miniature world of gene regulation, and we specifically look at how small RNA molecules work between generations to alter how genes are expressed. This field is called Transgenerational Epigenetics. It’s amazing how little we truly know about this field, and I am specifically interested in what determines how long epigenetic signals persist in a lineage of animals, and how we could molecularly control those rates. While we still don’t know the full impact of epigenetics, signs are pointing to it being a substantial factor in the diversity of phenotypes in nature. Epigenetics could potentially explain some diseases which we haven’t yet found a genetic cause for. The world of RNA is complex and mysterious, and my lab is working to understand how it functions from a basic science perspective, which could lead to innovations in more translational applications.

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