Elizabeth Berkow, MS, MLS (ASCP)
Prior to returning to graduate school to complete a PhD in molecular sciences, I was a clinical microbiologist for a reference pathology laboratory and spent each day carefully identifying microorganisms, interpreting diagnostic lab results, and performing susceptibility testing. I developed a deep appreciation for the work involved in generating results at the laboratory bench which translated to therapeutic success for the patient. For an inherent problem-solver, the microbiology lab is a perfect place to work – there is always a difficult-to-identify bacterium or a Plasmodium to speciate or a quality control isolate which is not behaving as expected. I found all such tasks to be challenging, gratifying, and above all exciting. In my experience, I also developed an awareness of areas within the microbiology laboratory which invite innovation and technological advancement. I would like to be involved in the selection, implementation, and validation of novel molecular technologies in large scale in the microbiology laboratory, as this has the potential to translate to faster and more appropriately targeted therapy. In order to achieve that goal, I set my sights on obtaining a PhD in my field and The University of Tennessee Health Science Center was a logical choice for me. As a native Memphian, I knew the university's reputation for academic excellence and was excited to be able to remain in a city that I love. My current research here at UTHSC perfectly aligns with my future goals. I am investigating the characterization of molecular markers of antifungal drug resistance in Candida species which could be used in the clinical laboratory to predict treatment failure or success in the future.
I am now a fifth year PhD candidate and my professional goal is to become an ABMM-certified Clinical Laboratory Director. My education at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has provided a unique set of skills and opportunities which will translate in making me a well-trained medical microbiologist. I have made meaningful contacts and collaborated with faculty on our campus, the Knoxville campus, as well as at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. I have attended numerous conferences across the US and even attended 2 international conferences. Most importantly, I have found the atmosphere at UTHSC to be focused on true mentorship; as a graduate student here, I am encouraged to be a positive contributor to the field, rather than an employee. Also, there are numerous opportunities to showcase my current work and I feel challenged and supported in my endeavors.
Four to six years is a long time to spend in one place – graduate school can be rough sometimes, but it's also a lot of fun. And in the end, finding a place where you can grow and be happy for the next however many years is really the most important thing. I decided to come to UTHSC for several reasons, but mostly because it just felt right – and as a 5th year Microbial Pathogenesis, Immunology and Inflammation graduate student, it still does.
Reasons that influenced my decision to attend UTHSC and study in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry included the quality of the research and the potential resources that were available to me as a student. I am currently studying the genetics of differential susceptibility to pneumonic Burkholderia pseudomallei infection using a murine "BXD" strain collection coupled with in silico resources known as GeneNetwork to perform quantitative trait loci mapping. I never imagined that I would ever work with a Tier 1 select agent, but now, this is a reality and because of this I have been afforded the opportunity to work in a state-of-the-art Regional Biocontainment Facility, which is only one of 12 in the country. I have been able to gain valuable experience working under BSL-3 conditions, something I would have not been able to achieve at most institutions.
Another factor that drew me here is their focus on an interdisciplinary approach that coincides with the demands of modern biological research. For graduate students here at UTHSC, departmental lines do not present any hindrance to working with professors outside your selected track. In this sense, one does not feel "stuck" in one department or another but rather part of a collective, collaborative group of academics. I personally work with professors in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology while my advisor is in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry.
The support and encouragement I receive from my advisor, peers and professors, makes the pursuit of my Ph.D. one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. UTHSC and the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry is truly a scientific community that fosters an environment filled with excitement, high intellect and success.