The Double Doctor: Dr. Ashely Helseth

My mentor, Dr. Ashley Helseth, has been a tremendous help in not only guiding me in my research project, but also in helping me to navigate and understand my lab’s research as a whole. She has been incredibly influential and I cannot wait to continue working with her for the rest of the summer and into the future.

Dr. Helseth has definitely had a unique journey in science as she seemingly never stops learning. At the age of 5, she knew she wanted to be a pediatrician. But, as she got older she realized she wanted to become a vet. She spent her undergraduate career as “pre-vet”, but soon realized she had a passion for scientific research. So, she decided to get a pHD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center following her undergrad. During graduate school, she focused on neuroimmunology, but specifically the modulation of the immune system to treat Parkinson’s. One driving reason she decided to do research on Parkinson’s in specific was because she had many family members who had been diagnosed with it and wanted to understand the disease pathology.

However, Dr. Helseth’s journey did not stop after she got her PhD. Her love for learning continued as she was inspired by her PhD mentor to pursue an MD. Dr. Helseth explained that in addition to the obvious job security that comes with being a physician, she realized that the best way to understand the disease is to see the clinical manifestation. She explained how good scientists can take a step back to see the big picture and she found that incredibly fascinating. So, then Dr. Helseth came full circle to her passion from when she was a mere 5 years old. After medical school at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Helseth did her residency in child neurology here at Duke.

Though Dr. Helseth does go to clinic occasionally, she spends a lot of her time in the lab doing research of course. When asked what her favorite part about doing research is, she explained that it is that moment when you obtains a result that contradicts past literature. Dr. Helseth loves the thrill of exciting and unexpected outcomes! However, she also spoke to me about something that she wished to change about the field. She wished for a world in which science was more focused on collaboration, as opposed to competition. She explained how in the physician world, doctors constantly collaborate to obtain the best medical outcome for their patient. She explained how she would like for their to be less of a focus on competing to publish first and more focus on reaching out to others to achieve the end goal of disease treatment.

In addition, despite her busy life, Dr. Helseth explained how it is important to have a balance. Outside of lab and clinic, she enjoys running, hiking, watching movies and of course hanging out with her family. She also offered two main pieces of advice to future students based on her experiences.

  1. Don’t be discouraged by failure because it is going to happen.
  2. Work should never be your job, but it should be your career. She was explaining how important it to find something you are passionate about, because work won’t feel like “work” if you do!

I’m so grateful to have Dr. Helseth as a mentor and I can’t wait to continue learning alongside her!

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