Joanna Shaw (IDM '18) worked as an assistant in a plant science lab in her freshman year of college at New York University, where she assisted on a project that dealt with flowering gene expression in Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant widely used as a model organism in plant biology.
“This research experience was my first taste of seeing the abstract lecture principles I was learning in my biology classes being applied practically, which fascinated me,” she says. “As I continued pursuing different research opportunities in college as a biochemistry major, I gained a lot of experience working with proteins and small molecules, though I wasn’t quite sure which scientific field I wanted to explore the most.”
During her senior year, Shaw took several immunology classes and discovered she enjoyed the clinical application of immunology in addition to learning about the molecular basis of different diseases. She chose to attend graduate school to further develop her research skills, take more specialized coursework in immunology, and ultimately decide whether to apply to medical schools or pursue a PhD. Initially, she focused her search on master’s degree programs because she wanted a heavily research-focused degree but wasn’t ready to commit to a PhD program.
“Among the schools I applied to, Pitt Public Health stood out because in addition to the rigorous science curriculum and the research funding available, the program also required several core public health classes,” Shaw says. “I felt that being able to translate the basic science knowledge I was learning into the broader context of population health was a valuable skill that would benefit me no matter what career I decided to pursue—MD, PhD, or both.”
Currently, Shaw, a Dean’s Scholar and MS student in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, is conducting antibiotic resistance research for her thesis and preparing to apply to MD/PhD programs. She hopes to further solidify her research and career interests as well as develop professional relationships with professors and research mentors so she can continue to work collaboratively with those in her field once she leaves the program.
“Ultimately, I want to both work with patients as well as conduct translational research in infectious diseases,” she says. “Pitt Public Health has so far provided me with many different research contacts as well as the opportunity to further develop my skills in the lab.”
When she’s not working in the lab, Shaw, who is originally from Hopewell Junction, New York, enjoys exploring Pittsburgh, which she says is decently sized and affordable with plenty of cultural and entertainment amenities. “I like all of the green spaces, museums, and libraries as well as the coffee shops and book shops around my apartment,” she says. “I have been a little surprised by the unbridled intensity of the sports fans here, but I hear that is just part of the city’s charm.”