“I am definitely in the right place.” Part of the selection process for me was coming to work with a specific PI (Primary Investigator). I came to work specifically with Dr. Darin Rokyta because his name is all over the literature in venom research.
What I Do
I study different venom compositions of snakes, centipedes, and scorpions, and then my primary dissertation is focused on the evolution of venom resistance. To do that I inject fruit flies, a model organism in genetics, with really, really dilute doses of centipede venom. I can sequence the genomes of the ones that are now resistant compared to the first generation and as well as a control to look at differences in genetics between them to figure out which genes are responsible for evolving that resistance.
I have been interested in venom and creep crawly animals since I was a kid— my nickname was ‘Dirtball’. I was always out catching things and bringing them home. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school and to do that I had to study something that would continue to captivate my interest the entire time.
More Than Money
I’ve always said, ‘happiness is not overrated so I couldn’t do something just for the money. That’s not where I find my motivation. I have found mentors in my graduate program. Dr. Rokyta and Dr. Kimberly Hughes have helped to foster my passions. They also motivated me to become a mentor. “Mentoring helps me stay inspired because we sometimes forget where our initial interests and curiosities came from. When I am talking to students and they ask questions, it kind of reminds me where I've come from and how far I've come.”
Ultimately, my interests are how to use venom in medicine, but there’s a big jump from going to the animal to going into a patient. Instead of focusing on the end part, I want to know where the venom is coming from, what is in it, how is it changing, and how it actually works.
Really don’t do it [graduate school] unless you’re sure, and that doesn’t mean you have to be sure in terms of what specifically you’re going to study. But sure in terms of that’s what you want, not what your parents want, not what someone else wants for you, what you want. If that motivation and drive is not coming from inside of you, it is going to be a lot harder to make it.