Spotlight Blog

Bailey Peck, Phd

By: Anita PatelBailey Peck

April 23, 2018

When asked about her life mantra, Bailey Peck replied, “Be a ‘yes man’. Spend your time saying ‘yes’ to opportunities, even if they aren’t your favorite things right away. When you’re presented with a chance to learn, collaborate, or get involved, take it!”

With her vast experience tackling science outreach since high school and a ‘yes man’ mantra in place, Bailey didn’t take very long to say ‘yes’ to an opportunity to engage with the public at the University of North Carolina when it landed at her doorstep. She’s been an enthusiastic DNA Day Scientist Ambassador throughout her Ph.D. and now as a postdoc at the University of Michigan. “My favorite part of DNA Day is seeing high school students immediately start asking teachers for letters of recommendation for summer research opportunities that we’d bring to their attention,” Bailey reminisced. She acknowledged that she herself could have benefited from earlier exposure to scientists as a high school student.

It doesn’t take very long to see Bailey’s radiating passion for STEM, which by the way, is utterly contagious. Since kindergarten, Bailey’s favorite subject was math, an interest that often invited ridicule and laughter for a young girl. However, she feels lucky enough to have acquired several strong, female role models over the years. “SO MANY… so many female mentors,” she emphasized. Now, by taking a particular interest in exciting young people in subjects such as bioinformatics, Bailey never misses an opportunity to empower women in STEM. “I was lucky enough to have had a mentor early on that built up my confidence in science. I solved my summer project in 2 weeks as an undergrad! It made me feel as if I can definitely pursue this career,” Bailey said, humbly acknowledging her luck.

It’s not surprising that Bailey has acquired a plethora of hobbies and interests along her years enthusiastically accepting new opportunities. She’s a yogi, an amateur knitter, bread maker, hiker, and world traveler, just to name a few. When she’s not tackling scientific discoveries, Bailey can be spotted winning trivia competitions around Ann Arbor and digging deeper into the art of succulent growing.

Matt Doherty, PhD

By: Jessica CoteMatt Doherty

April 16, 2018

Dr. Matt Doherty is a Project/Research Scientist at Therapeutic Systems Research Laboratories, an Ann Arbor-based company specializing in preclinical research on promising antimicrobial drugs. He was formerly a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Infectious Disease at the University of Michigan Medical School in the lab of Dr. Thomas Schmidt. During his post-doc, he researched the human gut microbiome —the collection of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms in the body. He previously did research with Dr. Pat Schloss in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology to understand how the microbiome changes when people are treated for Crohn’s disease, which will help develop tools to diagnose and predict the disease.

For Matt, teaching students about science has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his career. In addition to conducting research as a post-doc fellow, Matt was also an instructor for BIO173 at University of Michigan, which provides students with an authentic, hands-on research experience. Together with Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Niel Baxter, Matt helped teach students about the gut microbiome using a very unique assignment—the students collected samples of their own poop during the semester! Students then used the information from their samples to study how a starch supplement added to their diet influences their microbiome.

During Michigan DNA Day 2017, Matt shared advice with students at Huron High School about planning for a career in science. He recommends that students pursue research experiences as soon as possible to see if they enjoy it and might like to continue doing research in undergraduate and graduate school. He also wants students to know that a research scientist position, like his, is only one of many jobs in science. Other options include jobs related to health care policy, development of medications, and science education, just to name a few. Matt looks forward to meeting and mentoring more students during Michigan DNA Day 2018.

Adrian Melo Carrillo

By: Jessica CoteAdrian Melo Carrillo

April 9, 2018

Adrian Melo Carrillo is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. He studies the evolution of two endangered monkey species that live in Mexico, so Adrian travels there to collect samples. To prepare for his field research, he pulls on rubber boots, grabs a pair of binoculars, and heads outside to scan the trees for monkeys—and then runs to collect their poop when it falls to the ground! Back in Michigan, he extracts DNA from these fecal samples and performs population genetic analyses focusing on hybridization processes and immune-related genes. He performs his research with Dr. Liliana Cortes Ortiz.

Adrian was already quite familiar with Mexico before the research trips—he was born there and lived there until 2013, when he moved to Ann Arbor to start his Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. During his childhood, Adrian spent a lot of time reading books about nature, especially endangered and extinct species like dinosaurs. His insatiable curiosity around living things motivated him to study biology for his undergraduate and master’s degrees, and to continue on to get his PhD. He encourages curious students to consider careers in biology and other sciences because these fields offer unique opportunities to ask, and attempt to answer, an infinite number of questions about nature.

In addition to doing research, Adrian greatly values and enjoys teaching students about science. He loves to hear what they think about unresolved questions in the field of genetics and suspects that he “can learn more from them than they can from me.” Adrian has been a Graduate Student Instructor for eight semesters at Michigan and hopes to teach and mentor students throughout his career. He’s looking forward to teaching high school students about genetics during MI DNA Day 2018!

Harihar Mohan

By: Irene ParkHarihar Mohan

April 2, 2018

Why does one participate in science outreach? For Microbiology and Immunology master’s student Harihar Mohan, science outreach represents many ideas, including an introduction to scientific careers for young students. Harihar himself decided to pursue a scientific career after he attended an outreach session as a high school student.

“I would say that [the outreach] among others laid the foundation for my scientific career. I want to be able to do the same for a young and passionate scientist and feel that MI DNA Day is the perfect platform.”

Now, Harihar enjoys not just educating the students about science, but also sharing his experiences as a scientist. He remembers that during one of his outreach activities, he told the students that the most important aspect of research was “to know when to call it a day.”

Harihar adds that he is happy to see diversity among the MI DNA Day volunteers since science is becoming more multinational and multicultural. In a similar vein, Harihar says the current political climate makes science outreach a necessity because it provides an opportunity for scientists to interact with the taxpayers and discuss how important scientific research is for the society.

“…I feel that through increased outreach, the public knows what their tax is spent on and can vouch for the necessity of science for the progression of society.”

Shweta Ramdas

By: Brooke WolfordSweta Ramdas

March 19, 2018

Shweta Ramdas is a 5th year PhD student in the Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics at the University of Michigan Medical School. Recently, Shweta won the department’s Student Service Award for her work with several science outreach organizations including RELATE, MI DNA Day, MiSciWriters, and Girls Who Code. Shweta happened upon research by chance, having not really known much about scientific research as a field before her undergraduate career at the National University of Singapore (Shweta is originally from Mumbai, India). Thanks to great mentors, she realized how fun science could be. Her affinity for science outreach was born out of the desire to pass that excitement for science on to others. Luckily the general public is genuinely curious about human genetics, Shweta’s area of expertise, so she takes advantage of every opportunity to talk about genetics and her research. For example, she has spoken about genetics at public science events in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. She also helped establish MiSciWriters, a student organization that hosts a science writing blog to explain research to lay audiences, and frequently writes about genetics for the blog. Like many scientists who engage in outreach, Shweta always comes away from an outreach event feeling more excited about the research she does on a daily basis. Her thesis work, under the mentorship of Dr. Jun Li, focuses on different approaches to understand the genetic basis of human traits.

Imani Russell

By: Shweta Ramdas Imani Russell

March 5, 2018

As a second-year masters student in the Frontiers program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, Imani Russell divides her time between classes, her lab, and the forests of the Amazon, where she swabs various species of frogs to collect skin samples. These samples are then shipped to her lab in the US, and that’s where, as Imani says, “the fun stuff happens.” Imani studies a particular fungal species Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd for short) which infects the frogs. She is trying to understand the genetics of why certain frogs are resistant to this infection.

Imani is a native of Sacramento, California, and her interest in all things nature was piqued by her grandfather. He worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service, and took her along on trips to the outdoors in the Southwest. After a brief rebellious phase in high school where she decided she hated nature, she pursued a degree in Ecology from Mills College. Before grad school, she worked on diverse questions at different scales of ecology—studying reforestation, fleas, ticks, and tamarind parasites—before she chose disease biology as her area of interest.

Despite a full course-load, research, and teaching responsibilities, Imani participates in Michigan DNA Day so she can interact with high-schoolers, and see how they absorb new concepts that are often not taught in school. What did she think? “I had fun!” she says, and chuckles at having learnt a lot about what she taught (Pharmacogenomics) as she was teaching. After grad school, she plans to work at the intersection of teaching, research ,and public policy, working on problems that can help with the conservation of endangered species.

Amanda Elmore: Olympic athlete, scientist, and MI DNA Day Volunteer

By: Brooke WolfordAmanda Elmore

February 19, 2018

Amanda Elmore won gold in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil in the women’s eight rowing competition. She is also a former University of Michigan Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) student who studied how microbes colonize the gut in the lab of Dr. Pat Schloss. Amanda graduated with her Masters in Microbiology in May of 2017 and is currently training for the 2020 Olympics full time in Princeton, New Jersey.

Amanda believes it is really important for scientists to be able to explain what we are learning to lay audiences, kids, or even scientists from other fields. After finishing her departmental seminar before graduation, she thought it would be cool to explain her science and DNA to a different audience through MI DNA Day. It was easy to get involved with MI DNA Day because the lessons were already planned, so she could focus on making her communication clear, energetic, and fun for the students. Microbiology may seem unrelated to DNA, but as one of the many interdisciplinary scientists working with MI DNA Day, Amanda used DNA in her research regularly. She was able to explain to students how DNA helps scientists identify which bacteria are present in samples of the gut microbiome.

When asked to give advice for other graduate students trying “to do it all,” she emphasized the importance of having diverse activities so you get a mental break from one thing to focus on another. She appreciates having multiple interests to keep herself going, although obviously one shouldn’t spread oneself too thin. So next time you consider volunteering for a science communication opportunity, remember Olympic gold medalist Amanda Elmore’s sage advice and just do it!

Rebecca Pollet, PhD

By: Irene Park

Rebecca Pollet
Photo credit: Richardson Fry Photography

February 5, 2018

The MI DNA Day event may have been one of their first science outreach events for some participants, but not for Dr. Rebecca Pollet. Rebecca, a post-doctoral fellow at the Koropatkin lab at the University of Michigan, has a long history with science outreach events.

Rebecca completed her doctoral studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which happens to be the birthplace of the DNA Day outreach program. Needless to say, when she arrived at Michigan after her PhD, she was pleasantly surprised to find out that DNA Day had already expanded to Michigan!

Rebecca says one of advantages of DNA Day is the opportunity for young scientists (i.e. MS and PhD students, post-docs, and young faculty members) to interact with high school students, who are old enough to contemplate their career path and explore their interests.

“Outreach is really important for science in general because it’s easy for [the scientists] to be trapped in the ivory tower and not connect. The nice thing about the DNA Day model is that it’s connecting the young scientists…with high school students who are close enough to making career decisions. If they have an interest in science, we can really push that further.”

In fact, when she was at North Carolina, she was able to connect a high school student with a college student majoring in biochemistry.

“It was beyond just doing outreach. You actually had a role in networking and made a difference in the student’s life.”

Michigan DNA Day: building connections between scientists and classrooms

By: Christina VallianatosChristina Vallianatos

January 30, 2018

Picture what a scientist looks like. What comes to mind?

You’re probably conjuring images of white lab coats, safety goggles, and beakers filled with fizzing liquids and colorful chemicals. Maybe you’re thinking about Albert Einstein, with his wild hair and groundbreaking theories. Or perhaps Sheldon Cooper, the logical and narcissistic nerd made famous by the sit-com The Big Bang Theory.

Our perception of scientists, from the way they dress to the way they act, makes them seem unapproachable or even off-putting. They seem like a unique species and not much like us at all.

But shhh! Let me tell you a little secret: Scientists aren’t different from us at all! I would know – because I am a scientist, too!

The Michigan DNA Day (MI DNA Day) program aims to dispel these common misconceptions about what it means to be a scientist by bringing young researchers out of the lab and into high school classrooms across our state. MI DNA Day is entering its second year, adding to a rich history of other state– and national-level programs that all aim to promote learning of, and excitement for, the sciences.

Typically celebrated on April 25th of each year, Scientist Ambassadors (i.e. young scientists performing research in Michigan) visit local MI classrooms to both present interactive lessons about exciting topics in genetics and share their own experiences with science. Our scientists are athletes, dancers, musicians, adventurers, foodies, movie buffs, and so much more! They come from a variety of backgrounds, from countries around the world, united in their love of all things science. MI DNA Day aims to enrich classroom learning by giving students a personal connection into the world of science, and even opening future doors for them into scientific careers. The next time they think about what a scientist is, they’re less likely to conjure the image of a mad scientist and more likely to see themselves fill that white lab coat.

At MI DNA Day, we love to showcase how science is integral to our everyday lives. We strongly believe science is for everyone, and anyone can be a scientist! And we have a team of diverse Scientist Ambassadors to prove it. MI DNA Day has partnered with MiSciWriters to feature a number of the Ambassadors that will be visiting high school classrooms this upcoming DNA Day. Over the next few months, you can read about our outstanding Ambassadors and the research they are conducting in our MI DNA Day Spotlight blog found at our website, Facebook page, Twitter@MIDNADay, Instagram@MichiganDNADay, or through the MiSciWriters blog.

We’re so excited to bring Michigan into the DNA Day family and hope you can join us on our journey as we spread our passion for science across the state!

Contact us here or by emailing us at