Emma Dawson

Meet recent UCLA graduate, Emma Dawson, who graduated this past Spring 2020 in Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics. As an undergraduate Emma worked in the lab of Dr. Michael Teitell, whose research involves pediatric pathology.

Emma recently published her first-author paper in Scientific Reports titled “Stable retention of chloramphenicol-resistant mtDNA to rescue metabolically impaired cells”, which was previously published in the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal.

How did you first get involved in your research project?

I started working in the Michael Teitell lab a few weeks into my undergraduate career at UCLA, after having reached out to Dr. Teitell the summer prior to starting my freshman year. Additionally, I had joined the HHMI-Pathways to Success Program, directed by Dr. Tracy Johnson, that helped prepare me to ask novel scientific questions/plan experiments to test those questions. Between Dr. Johnson and my direct mentors in the Teitell lab, Dr. Alexander Patananan and Alexander Sercel, I had great mentorship and advice while getting involved in my first independent research project that I worked on through all four years at UCLA. The project I worked on involved a cool phenomenon in which cells will transfer mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) directly to another cell, known as mitochondrial transfer. This can be done as a means of promoting tissue recovery or is hijacked by cancer cells to promote cancer progression. This is a new, and very exciting field, that I feel fortunate to have contributed to through my recent publication developing a high-throughput pipeline for studying mitochondrial transfer in cells.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experiences at UCLA have completely changed my life. I was involved in research programs including the HHMI-Pathways to Success, the CARE Scholars Program, and the MARC program that all helped me succeed as a scientist. Additionally, my lab mentors and lab advisor, Dr. Michael Teitell, gave me the freedom and the confidence to ask novel questions in the field and to perform exciting experiments as a part of an independent project in the lab. These research experiences solidified my desire to continue academic research and apply for a PhD in biology.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

My biggest advice to students interested in getting involved in research is to just do it! Students have to reach out to professors and take the initiative to join a lab. There are so many resources on campus to help you find a lab and a lab environment that fit your needs. Students just have to take the initiative. And with that said, if you can join a lab earlier, rather than later, the better. I was only able to accomplish everything I did in my lab, because I was able to work and grow in that environment for four years. The longer you spend in a lab environment, the more you will get out of it.

What are your future career goals?

I am excited to be starting my PhD in the Biology program at MIT this fall. I could not be more thankful to all of my mentors that pushed me to succeed as an undergrad. I would not be where I am today without them. After my PhD, I hope to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and ultimately, pursue a faculty position at an academic institution.