By Leo Barolo
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Rachel Miller moved to Wisconsin in 2017 to pursue her PhD in Chemistry in Lloyd Smith’s lab, where she helped develop new mass spectrometric tools and methods for the comprehensive characterization of the proteome.
She recently defended her PhD thesis, but before leaving UW-Madison she told us about her research and experience as a badger:
What are the main goals of your research?
We (the Smith lab) really focus on using bioanalytical methods to address complex biological problems which are brought to us by our wonderful collaborators. I have worked on a wide variety of projects throughout my graduate-school career, many of which have focused on the development of bioinformatics tools to help integrate additional data into proteomic analysis. One area I am passionate about is called proteogenomics, in which we seek to integrate transcriptomic and proteomic data together to provide a more complete view of our biological system of interest. Most recently this has focused on using PacBio long-read sequencing to generate sample-specific databases which allow us to better understand the protein isoform diversity within our samples.
Is there a single person, event, or experience that most influenced your trajectory to where you are today?
Wow that is a wonderful question, and a really tough question. As I am rapidly approaching the end of my graduate school experience, I have been reflecting a lot about the journey that got me to where I am today and all the different experiences and people that have shaped that path. It is very difficult to highlight any one person or event, but I would have to say that I would not be the scientist I am today if it was not for my advisor Dr. Lloyd Smith. I remember when I first met Lloyd, and I knew that his research group was where I needed to be for my PhD. He has such a love for science that really permeates throughout the group, and is infectious. He really wants to ensure that you enjoy what you are working on, and that it is your passion that drives you every day. He really encouraged me to grow as an independent scientist, follow my ideas, and fight for what I believe in. I will always be grateful for his mentorship and everything that he has taught me.
What advice would you have for a young person interested in graduate school or research?
My biggest piece of advice would be to not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. If you find yourself drawn towards a research area that you have no prior experience in, do not be afraid to take a leap and go for it. Graduate school is a time for growth and learning, there is no better time to learn an entirely new field/ skillset. It is exactly what we are here for as students. It may be hard, and take some time to get up and running, but if it excites you and you are passionate it will be 100% worth it.
Did you do anything non-academic to help with graduate school?
During graduate school I took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a hobby. It has been a really excellent experience and a great counter to life as a graduate student. It really helps with stress relief and when I am on the mats it forces me to focus on things not related to lab and my work. It also helped me create a network of support and friends outside of graduate school which I feel is important and helps you to stay grounded.
Since leaving UW, Dr. Miller is now working as a research and development scientist at Streck Laboratories. She hopes that in this role she will continue her work in the area of proteomics and will collaborate with many scientists from different scientific backgrounds.