I have had the pleasure of working with and interviewing [Future] Dr. Amber Eubanks who is currently a third year PhD candidate at the Derbyshire Lab in the Department of Chemistry. As a graduate student, Amber spends countless hours in the laboratory but yet she always welcomes anyone who walks into the lab with a warm smile. In her undergraduate career, Amber attended Appalachian State University and was a Chemistry major and Biology minor. Just like many students at Duke, Amber began her college years as a Premed student but after shadowing and having other life-altering experiences, she decided that patient contact was not necessarily the only way to help others. In her sophomore year, Amber began working in a Pharmacology and Biochemistry research lab and it is after this that she decided that she would further pursue her interest in research. I felt a lot more at ease when she told me that she was a “lab rat” in her first lab position as most of her tasks included mostly making buffers. Because of Amber’s family background, she was motivated to continue onto graduate school as she would be one of few in her family to earn a graduate degree. Amber’s love and passion not only for learning, but for teaching, is evident in her everyday attitude with the undergrads in the lab as well as her colleagues. Similar to many of us in BSURF, Amber did have any previous research experience but this did not stop her as she was able to form meaningful and especially impactful relationships with her PI and upperclassmen who greatly influenced her career path.
I have had quite a few embarrassing moments in the lab such as not balancing the centrifuge and having an extremely heavy machine rattle so much so that it interrupts everyone’s work. Or when I am told exactly where something is and I still go to the wrong place when asked to find it. When asked about her most embarrassing lab moment, Amber told me of when she was once using fluorescence probe in a minus 20. When she went to get it out of the minus 20 and she started weighing things, the scale was not going over a few micrograms even though she placed all the material on the scale. She went to her PI and she found out she was weighing packing material that was really light.
Despite the embarrassing moments, Amber had the opportunity to work on an extremely interesting project in her undergraduate career after being granted summer funding from NASA. Her original project was studying the c.elegan and specifically its mode of drug transport but she had to somehow align this with NASA’s interests. Since drug efficacy is not the same for humans when they go to space, Amber began growing liquid cultures of c.elegans on a microplate which no one had tried before. She was able to suspend liquid cultures on rotators which allowed the liquid cultures to grow in space-like conditions. Surprisingly, she was convinced all her specimen died but after a short break, she found that they were all alive and the microgravity was not impairing their ability to move. The c.elegans that were in space-like conditions were longer, skinnier, and they moved in different patterns which meant that the change in drug transport was a result of the change in their physiology. I found this story especially inspiring as it is a clear depiction of the type of dedication and persistence seen in successful scientists.
According to Amber, science is always challenging and the only way to find meaning is to keep in touch with one’s purpose. For her, biochemistry and specifically proteomics is what has kept her in the lab thus far. Although she cannot see herself doing anything else, she hopes to enter a postdoctoral fellowship where she could focus more on Cell Biology or Proteomics. Her advice to undergrads is that it is never too early to start and I believe we have had a head start with BSURF. I am excited to spend my summer as well as the fourth-coming years assisting Amber in her research as well as hopefully beginning my own projects as a future medical scientist.