by CDI Award Recipient Isola Brown, submitted by 2009–2010 CDI Committee Chair Adrian Nanez
Note: Application deadline for 2019 undergraduate awards is October 19.
The Society of Toxicology (SOT) Undergraduate Diversity Program was an important experience in my scientific career path, as it allowed me to attend the 2010 SOT Annual Meeting. This was my first ever conference and attending a national meeting of this caliber at such an early time in my academic career was a pivotal moment in my professional development. Through the Undergrad Diversity Program, I gained an early appreciation for science communication, networking, and mentoring as key parts of a fulfilling scientific career.
My interest in a career in toxicology began in an unexpected place: my living room couch. Years of Friday night marathons of CSI (Las Vegas and Miami editions–of course!) and a love for chemistry, sparked an interest in a career in forensic toxicology. In pursuit of this goal, I attended the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) where I attained a Bachelor of Arts degrees in chemistry and biochemistry. While at Penn, in addition to attending the SOT Annual Meeting, I participated in summer research in the labs of Gregory Weiss and Amy Palmer at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, respectively. Additionally, during my junior and senior years, I worked in the laboratory of Bruce Sachais in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn. These undergrad research experiences were instrumental in developing my passion for academic research. Drs. Weiss, Palmer, and Sachais provided key mentorship and support for my transition to graduate school.
In 2012, I matriculated into the Pharmacology and Toxicology PhD program at Michigan State University (MSU). At MSU, I was fortunate to be in a department that housed leaders in various fields of toxicology, including past and present SOT leadership. Although my research interest shifted from toxicology to neuroscience during graduate school, the strong and supportive training environment provided by the Pharm/Tox Department ensured the successful defense of my dissertation “Enteric Glial Cell Regulation of Oxidative Stress and Immune Homeostasis During Gastrointestinal Inflammation” in 2017 from the laboratory of Brian Gulbransen.
One of my key takeaways from the Undergraduate Diversity Program was the importance of strong and supportive mentorship. Following the model provided to me by the Undergraduate Diversity Program peer mentors, I have made mentoring of future scientists a priority in my own career. As a female underrepresented minority scientist, this mentorship is particularly targeted to other women and minorities in science. During graduate school, I was an active member of the MSU chapter of the Graduate Women in Science, an organization through which I mentored middle, high school, and undergraduate girls and women with a passion for science. I also was a graduate student mentor for the MSU Summer Opportunities Research Program, where I provided one-on-one feedback and guidance for underrepresented undergraduate students engaged in summer research at MSU. I was a steering committee member for the MSU Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate—a National Science Foundation-funded program that supports the recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups in PhD programs at MSU. In these ways, I played an active role in ensuring gender and racial diversity within academia—a passion that was sparked after my Undergraduate Diversity Program experience.
I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Virginia working in the laboratory of Brant Isakson. My work studying the intravascular endothelial cells in viral infections supports my broad research interests in intercellular signaling in disease that began in graduate school. As a National Academy of Sciences Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, I am diligent in my continued efforts to promote and support increasing diversity in academic faculties and am thankful to the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program for being a catalyst for dedication.