Interview with Dr. Hammer

As mentioned in my previous post, this summer I have been given the opportunity to work in the Hammer lab within the Department of Immunology. The lab is run by Dr. Gianna Hammer and I had the pleasure to interview her this past week. Before I started the fellowship, I had the opportunity to read about her research and her amazing accomplishments, which include being named a Pew Scholar in 2015. I remember being excited to work with such a talented individual, which is why I was excited to have the opportunity talk to her about her research endeavors.

Dr. Hammer went to Eastern Washington University for undergrad and received her Ph.D. from UC Berkley. She, at first, was interested in microbiology but switched her focus to immunology after taking a class in the subject. She liked how immunology was relevant to the discoveries going on. During her academic studies, people were starting to realize that the bacteria in the body had critical functions. The science is what lead her to the intestines. Throughout her research, she kept questioning all the results she obtained. The questions that she asked in her research led her to investigate the role of the immune system in the intestines.

During our interview, I asked Dr. Hammer what her most memorable experience has been thus far. The experience happened to be when she wrote her first manuscript while in graduate school. She wanted her PI to check over every section of the paper as completed them but they refused to read it until it was complete. When her PI finally read the paper, he had many critiques, but this process ended up being transformative. Dr. Hammer was able to learn the most compelling ways to present research to an audience and how to precisely explain data/results. The tools gained while writing this paper have stuck with her throughout her career.

One of my goals, as mentioned in my first blog post, is to learn what to do after failure. I asked Dr. Hammer “How do you overcome/embrace failure in the research field”. She responded by saying “Failure comes in many forms”. Failure could be an experiment that did not go the way you expected or being rejected for a grant. She said that disappointment comes but its important to keep an open mind. Sometimes the failed experiment allows you to focus on a different aspect of a topic. Dr. Hammer also said to talk to the science with other people because sometimes they will notice something that you didn’t.

Since I am new to research, I asked Dr. Hammer if she had any advice for students like me. The first thing she told me was not to be afraid to diversify. Try out different aspects and types of research. She also said to pursue research because it’s what you love. Research does not always produce rewards immediately, it can take years before the benefits appear. If you do not love what you are doing, then this work can become miserable.

Interviewing anyone who has had success in a field that you’re interested in is always such an eye-opening experience. I am beyond thankful for the chance to talk to Dr. Hammer about her experiences in research.

Dr. Gianna Hammer (Source: Department of Immunology, Duke School of Medicine)

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