Dr.Emily Derbyshire started out as an undergraduate at Trinity College, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, where she studied Chemistry. As an undergraduate, she always knew that she wanted to pursue research; she had gotten some glimpses of it in high school and worked in a lab as an undergraduate (even dedicating her summers to research!). She loved the bench work and problem-solving aspects in research, however, at that point she did not think she would have ended up as a professor.
After her undergraduate studies, she then went on to pursue her PhD in Molecular Biology at UC Berkeley. As a Post-Doc, she realized she wanted to orient her research to a more disease-related area, so she began working in Chemical Biology with a focus on malaria at Harvard Medical School.
When asked about her goals in college and their evolution, Dr. Derbyshire responded that her primary focus as an undergraduate was to graduate and get her degree. She worked three jobs to get herself through college! She decided that she wanted to go to graduate school after an internship in a company one summer where she saw the different degrees of freedom people had with just a Bachelors degree versus a PhD. She wanted a higher level of intellectual stimulation, so she decided in her junior year to get a PhD.
Looking at research specifically, Dr.Derbyshire mentioned that her goals were dictated mostly by the labs in which she worked. In her words, “they were very chemical and molecular.” Her research “zoomed out” over time. Studying the conformational changes from a molecule binding to a protein evolved into diving deeper on how molecules inhibit an organism (which is similar to what we are doing in lab!). So far, her favorite part about doing research has been gathering data to learn something new both personally and in the scientific community.
In terms of teaching, Dr.Derbyshire has enjoyed the experience, describing it as “fun”. As an undergraduate and graduate student, she had done some TA work, but what she did was dictated by the faculty member with whom she worked. As a professor here, however, she has been able to teach topics that really interest her within Chemical Biology. As a professor, she enjoys most when students come to her with a question that lets her know they were thinking about what she said and its application in other aspects. She likes to see students not just memorizing, but taking the time to synthesize what they’ve learned and pushing forward by asking questions.
Science in general has been a focus for Dr.Derbyshire due to its problem-solving nature and thinking involved. It is a path that answers important questions while help others at the same time, as exemplified by studying malaria, a complex disease that affects millions.
For future scientists, Dr.Derbyshire says “follow what excites you and make sure that you’re interested in it. That’s the most important thing!”