Early Career Leadership Spotlight — Laura Taylor
We’re taking time over the following weeks to get to know the members of the GSA’s Early Career Scientist Committees. Join us every week to learn more about our early career scientist advocates.
University of Washington
Alzheimer’s Disease and other related dementias, collectively known as neurodegenerative diseases, are becoming increasingly prevalent as our population continues to age. We currently have no effective way to treat these diseases, which cause a huge burden on our society. To help alleviate this issue, we need to understand how disease pathologies begin and how they advance in later stages. During neurodegenerative disease progression, neurons in the brain die off, resulting in the loss of cellular communication and leading to symptoms that include memory loss and cognitive decline. If we can identify the pathological changes that happen on a molecular level to trigger cell death, then we can develop therapeutics to target those events before they can cause cellular death and present as symptoms. I study these processes by modeling dementia in the microscopic nematode worm C. elegans. I specifically look at how a number of different proteins are modified during disease and whether those alterations lead to neuron death. By using C. elegans, which is transparent and has a limited number of neurons, we can observe neurons in a live organism by labeling them fluorescently and watching how their neuronal networks change with age. By observing the C elegans nervous system during both the initiation and progression of disease, we can gain insight into what might be happening in the brain cells of humans as we age.
As a PhD-trained scientist, you have many career options. What career paths interest you the most?
During my graduate career, I have noticed that the highlight of my week is when I have the chance to tell someone about why I love science. Because of this, I have signed up for every science café and volunteer speaking opportunity I could find. I came to realize that I love public speaking and really enjoy engaging with people from all different backgrounds by sharing my science. Having scientists who are willing to share their research with the public is essential for maintaining a pipeline of information that can help close the gap between researchers and the people who fund our work.
I would like to turn this passion into a career. I often joke with friends that my ideal job is to be the female version of Bill Nye the Science Guy—with an emphasis on health-related science. I could easily see myself in a teaching or scientific communication and advocacy role, either by working for a non-profit organization or foundation or as an educator in schools that emphasize the importance of cross-disciplinary communication.
In addition to your research, how else do you want to advance the scientific enterprise?
My dream is to increase scientific literacy among the public and advocate for more evidence-based decision making. I think there is a disconnect between the public perception of what happens in the laboratory and how research truly takes place, which creates a feeling of distrust. Science should be a transparent process, accessible to everyone on all levels. Our political leaders continue to make decisions based on information that is contrary to scientific evidence; this misleads the public and further divides the scientific community and the citizens we should be serving. We as scientists are responsible for communicating our findings in a manner that can be understood by all so that we can advance our society, especially since we are funded by tax dollars. If we can bridge the gap between public and scientific knowledge, I believe we can help everyone make more informed and factual decisions.
As a leader within the Genetics Society of America, what do you hope to accomplish?
Now that I have joined the GSA policy subcommittee, I am excited to begin working with other scientists who have passions similar to my own. Together we are working on ways to better communicate opportunities such as fellowships and job postings to our peers. Furthermore, we aim to keep the GSA community informed about current topics through our monthly newsletter and regular blog posts that cover relevant issues that affect our community. I am looking forward to helping curate the policy fellowships database and to conducting interviews of past fellowship recipients to better enable other students and postdocs to explore policy and advocacy careers that they may not have considered before. This will allow them to make more informed decisions about which path they may like to pursue beyond research—and will hopefully allow scientists to become engaged in political processes.
Previous Leadership Experience
- Graduate Student Representative—University of Washington Research Advisory Board
- Student Representative, Molecular and Cellular Biology Program Steering Committee—University of Washington
- Neuroscience Student Area Director—University of Washington
- Founder, Alpha Wisconsin chapter, Nu Rho Psi—Honorary Neuroscience Fraternity