Student Profiles

Student Profiles

Jason Arne
2015 Matriculant

What really gets Jason excited, is that the Duke PhD will give him the skills to be a successful scientist. Not just the hard skills to be a great researcher, but the soft skills to present and communicate, to creatively solve problems, and to work collaboratively.  

Jason came to Duke from Case Western Reserve, after studying retinol pathway regeneration as an undergraduate. What’s different about Duke is that he knows he has the university resources behind him and feels confident that he’s not isolated in the lab. His experiences so far have led him to realize that his level of achievement in researching spatial regulation protein synthesis is proportional to the amount of effort he puts in. With Jason’s work ethic, he’s on an exciting and successful career trajectory.

Jason works in the Nicchitta Lab and studies the spatial regulation of protein synthesis and the differences in translation that occur by cytosolic or ER-localized ribosomes.

Grace Beggs
2015 Matriculant

It wasn’t such a stretch for Grace to move from a small college in mid-central Florida to Duke. She knew she had to go big, if she wanted to make significant contributions in the area of molecular mechanisms of transcription regulation and structural biology. It was Duke’s collaborative environment that lured her north and that would help her develop a tool kit of professional skills, learn about diverse fields in biochemistry, and other department’s research.

Grace came into the department through Cell and Molecular Biology (CMB), one of Duke’s many interdisciplinary training programs. She has found a home at Duke and a close community through programs and organizations that support underrepresented minorities in STEM, including the Duke Chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the Duke BioCoRE program.

She’s glad she moved to Durham with its great restaurant and farm-to-table scene. But she also enjoys living close to Duke Forest and the state parks where she can escape on a Saturday morning.

Grace does research in the Brennan Lab where she elucidates mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria and researches the role these transcriptional regulators play in bacterial survival during host infection.

​Yuze Hou
2017 Matriculant

In Yuze’s first year, he’s rotating through 3 labs to expose himself to different fields in biochemistry. He’ll eventually choose one to do his research, but right now, his goal is to work hard and learn new techniques, analytical methods, and interdisciplinary research.

Yuze came from the prestigious Peking University in Beijing, having majored in pharmaceutical sciences. He thinks Duke is a good fit because there are people from all over the world. About the program—he finds everyone is friendly. There is happy hour every Friday where he can socialize with different labs and sometimes with famous scientists that come discuss their research.

He likes Durham—it’ the antithesis of Beijing’s urban jungle. It’s quiet, with beautiful scenery and fresh air—plus Yuze thinks the food is pretty delicious. 

Megan Kelley
2016 Matriculant

Parasites were Megan’s passion at Washington University in St. Louis where she was a biology and chemistry major. Now at Duke, she’s part of the MD-PhD training program, studying chemical biology and drug development and hoping to build technologies that discover novel RNA-binding chemical scaffolds and accelerate the field of RNA-targeted small molecule drug development.

What does Megan love about Duke? Well—it’s the people. The students, faculty, and administration create an incredibly fun, engaging, and supportive environment, both inside and outside the lab. And living in Durham isn’t bad either.  There’s lots of great food, dancing, music, and nature’s close by. Being in the middle of the state, it’s only a few hours to the beach and a little more for her to enjoy the mountains.

Hannah McMillan 
2015 Matriculant

Hannah enjoys being surrounded by so many enthusiastic, brilliant, and curious scientists and appreciates that the biochemistry faculty have encouraged her to study topics she finds interesting—even though they may stray slightly from the lab's focus. Her research goal is to find the interplay between bacterial outer membrane vesicles and plants, specifically through host-pathogen interactions.

The graduate school’s career development has really impressed Hannah. They offer workshops on searching for a job in academia and starting a career in industry. They’ve also taught her how to prepare for her career and what recruiters are looking for. 

Hannah is a Durham native and attended Davidson, a small liberal arts college just outside Charlotte. She likes how Durham has kept its small-town feel, even though it’s going through a major growth spurt. In the city or on-campus, there is always something to do—like taking dance classes at American Dance Festival (ADF), attending their performances in the summer, and going to shows all year at the Durham Performing Arts Center. She also sometimes stops in at Duke’s Arts Annex to take pottery and painting classes. 

Hannah works in the Kuehn Lab and studies how bacterial outer membrane vesicles impact a plant's innate immune responses.

Blanca Rodriguez
2015 Matriculant

Blanca wants to be an independent researcher and to do this, she’s learning to approach scientific problems from an interdisciplinary perspective. Currently part of the Kuehn lab, her focus is on making discoveries that contribute to our understanding of how bacteria secrete RNA and DNA to modulate host-cell functions. Specifically, she’s examining the production of membrane vesicle-associated nucleic acids by pathogenic bacteria and the mechanisms by which those nucleic acids are recognized by recipient cells.

Her interest in biochemistry started as an undergraduate when she worked in a lab that elucidated the molecular mechanisms driving the assembly of small nuclear ribonucleoproteins in the spliceosome. Progressing in her studies, Blanca’s Master's thesis project determined the binding affinity of different types of synthetic RNAs to nanoparticles as potential gene-delivery platforms.

There were two reasons Blanca was drawn to Duke’s Biochemistry program—the stimulating research and collegial relationships between faculty and students. But where Duke really stand out in her eyes, are the efforts made by the Biochemistry Diversity & Inclusion Committee to create a welcoming and equitable environment for everyone. At the graduate school level, there are also BioCoRE and SACNAS, organizations that foster a supportive space for underrepresented students in biomedical research. They’ve both given Blanca the tools to fight against the ever-present Imposter Syndrome, which has helped her develop a strong sense of belonging at graduate school.

Blanca was pleasantly surprised when she arrived in Durham from Texas. It has cultural diversity, reflected in the variety of food options, especially the abundance of tasty and cheap Mexican restaurants and there’s the city’s beauty, especially Duke’s campus. There’s one activity that tops her list though—attending Duke Basketball games.

Jefffrey Smith
2014 Matriculant

As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Jeffrey became interested in hormone receptor signaling. So to continue his studies, he chose to attend Duke, given their world-renowned expertise in the field. In 2012 Jeffrey entered into Duke’s Medical Scientist Training (MD/PhD) program and joined the Department of Biochemistry in 2014. He currently focuses on signaling within chemokine receptors, and hopes his work will contribute to the development of novel drugs that treat inflammatory diseases. Jeffrey likens biomedical research to a “team sport,” and enjoys the collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects he has worked towards during his PhD.

Coming from Seattle, Jeffrey thinks living in Durham is easy—especially the commute and its low cost. He enjoys hiking and canoeing in the Mid-Atlantic, and like many others, attending Duke Basketball games. 

Jeffrey is interested in understanding the mechanisms and physiological implications behind how drugs targeting receptors provide efficacy in the clinic. In the Rajagopal Lab, he focuses on chemokine receptors, a family of GPCRs that has been notoriously difficult to drug. 

You Wang
2013 matriculant

You Wang likes the Department of Biochemistry’s supportive environment—all the mentors work collaboratively, so he can leverage different areas of faculty expertise. His lab is an exciting place to do his research and will certainly help him reach his goal of solving a previously unknown structure.

His PhD is very different than his undergraduate experience, studying biotechnology and bioengineering at Jiaotong University. Duke is culturally diverse, which make him feel very welcome as an international student. And living in Durham? It’s a far cry from the streets of Shanghai. It’s taken him a bit to get used to—but now he likes that there are less people, an abundance of trees, and green all around.

You does research in the Beese Lab, solving the atomic structures of human cancer related proteins to develop new anti-cancer therapeutics.