This prestigious award was established in 1981 in memory of former Wistar predoctoral trainee Monica H.M. Shander and is given annually to a predoctoral trainee who displays excellence in scholastics as well as aptitude and diligence in the laboratory.
Q: What does your work consist of in the Kulp lab?
A: A lot of my work is understanding the structures of proteins. In the Kulp lab, we are focusing on viral glycoproteins and understanding how their structure can be modified.
We want to understand how the immune system recognizes a pathogen so we can tailor or change the immune response that’s elicited by vaccination to direct antibody responses to the most important sites for immunity. So, a lot of my day is spent looking at the binding sites of antibodies and at interactions between different proteins to understand how modifications might change those interactions.
Q: When and why did you join the Kulp lab?
A: I rotated into the Kulp lab during the first year of my Ph.D. I really fell in love with the critical thinking aspect of this research and the interesting ways that we create vaccines that alter what the immune system is recognizing in order to induce a more potent response.
It’s fascinating to look at these modifications and think about how you can trick the immune system. And it’s a very creative, but rational process to creating vaccines. I was interested in doing vaccine work before I came to Penn and was working at the National Institutes of Health before that. Those prior experiences sparked my interest in the preclinical development side of vaccines.
Q: What was your undergrad degree in?
A: My undergraduate degree is in biochemistry.
Q: What brought you to science?
A: I started having health problems when I was a teenager, but I was also very interested in the intellectual side of asking questions and finding answers. I wanted to be able to create answers and help clinically translate research into future drugs or therapies.
Q: What does this award mean to you?
A: An important part of the graduate level training is improving how you communicate your research. This is a great opportunity to share science with other people and I’m hoping to use the money from this award to go to a scientific conference and be able to learn and bring back what I learned to further our research. I also just want to be able to share and have interesting conversations with other scientists.