GradSlack Elevator Pitches

As a thank you to our members for their enthusiasm since GradStudentSlack began, we opened two surprise channels a few weeks ago. The channels were only going to be available for 24 hours, but due to the huge response, both #elevatorpitches and #howdoyoustayuptodate channels remain open. As part of #elevatorpitches we had a contest for a chance to be featured on @gradslack twitter and here on the website. We had a great response and narrowed down the participants to 5 finalists, Deanna Tiek, Sarah Kerns, Jordan Harrod, Lyndsay Kissell, and Dani Crain. We posted the finalist’s elevator pitches in gradslack and asked our members to vote on the best elevator pitch. The winner was Dani Crain! Congrats Dani and all finalists!! Thank you to everyone who participated in both the contest and voting.


 Our Winner!!


Dani Crain is starting her fourth year as a graduate student at Baylor University in Fall 2018. Follow her on Twitter @DCrainium. Here is her winning elevator pitch!


My lab (with Dr. Stephen Trumble at Baylor University) reconstructs baleen whale’s lifetime events using the hormones in their earwax. Whales produce earwax which builds up in their ear canals over time. This earwax forms a plug that, when cut in half, shows layers similar to tree growth rings. We use the hormones from these layers to show when an individual whale experiences stress, when they reach sexual maturity, and when they are pregnant. Big picture this allows us to look at the environment at the time these animals were alive. To date, we have 150 years of data from the mid-1800s to present day that shows whales were stressed out during World War II (no kidding!) and that different species of whales may change their pregnancy rate in opposing fashions to changes in sea surface temperature.

Twitter: @DCrainium



The finalists:


Deanna Tiek is a fifth year in the Tumor Biology program at Georgetown University. Her research focuses on discovering new dependencies of drug-resistant glioblastoma to determine better therapies for the future. @tieker23


Over 15,000 people, like John McCain and Beau Biden, are going to get diagnosed with glioblastoma this year, and about half of those diagnosed will have passed by this time next year. It is the most deadly brain cancer with an average patient survival of 14 months, and only 1 in every 20 patients surviving 5 years after diagnosis. Though awareness and funding are increasing with foundations like the Biden Foundation, the outcome is still abysmal due to the many special biological features of the brain, our poor understanding of glioblastoma, and its rapid resistance to chemotherapy. My goal is to study resistant brain cancer to both detect resistance earlier and design targeted therapies that will continue killing cancer cells even after drug resistance has occurred. Hopefully one day we can have glioblastoma survivors opening foundations, rather than opening them in their honor.


Lyndsay Kissell is entering her fourth year as a Chemistry PhD student at Portland State University focusing on the intersection of science and art. Her primary project is developing sensors for early detection of corrosion products via spectroscopic methods.


Did you know that corrosion treatment and maintenance consumes an estimated half-trillion dollars a year?! With the new sensor I’m developing, we could apply a simple carbon quantum dot-hydrogel patch that glows under “black” light to metal structures (over paint or other coatings). If the gel stops glowing, we’ll know the underlying metal is corroding, and the appropriate personnel can treat that corrosion at a much earlier stage! We may be able to help avoid million dollar reparation projects, and instances of structural stability being compromised! I’m Lyndsay Kissell, and I’m working to address the corrosion problem in the developed world.



Jordan Harrod, who studies at Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, is starting her first year as a PhD Student in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. Twitter: @jordanbharrod


*This is actually my undergrad research – I start my PhD in August.

Is your fantasy football team lagging behind the rest? Did your favorite player twist his or her knee the wrong way?

I might be able to help.

My research focuses on the meniscus, a crescent-shaped piece of cartilage that prevents friction between the bones in your knees and distributes your bodyweight as you move throughout the day. Unfortunately, meniscus tears are one of the most common athletic injuries, especially in football. If left untreated, they can lead to arthritis in fairly young athletes. In the past, my lab developed a tissue engineered replacement meniscus to solve this issue, but we discovered that our replacement couldn’t support your weight because there was an abrupt transition from soft tissue to bone at each end of the meniscus. This transition is called the enthesis. Normally, our meniscal entheses have four regions of mineralization that help to stabilize your meniscus as it supports your weight. Our tissue engineered meniscal entheses only had two regions – bone and soft tissue.  My research focused on finding a way to add those two intermediate regions into our tissue engineered menisci using demineralization gradients, so that when the meniscus is implanted, it would work just as well as the menisci we’re born with.

(Unfortunately this is the extent of my usefulness when it comes to football, so if that’s not why your fantasy team sucks, I can’t help you. Sorry!)




Sarah Kearns is a third year in the Program in Chemical Biology Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan. She looks at the structure and function of the molecular roads of the cell using different types of microscopes. Sarah is also the communications director of Michigan Science Writers and runs her own blog, Annotated Science. Twitter: @annotated_sci.


Just like cities, our cells have a complicated system of molecular roads called microtubules. These long tubes serve as molecular highways for cargo transport. Motor proteins walk along these roads to deliver organelles and other proteins to the right place in the cell. Where drivers follow road signs and use GPS to navigate, cellular motors look for chemical changes to the microtubules to know where to go. Using different types of microscopes allows me to look at these particular marks either in or out of the cell to determine the cellular and structural functions of the modifications. Certain modifications and their associated motor proteins have been implicated in many diseases, so I hope to learn how these different road signs signal for aberrant molecular processes.


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