Dr. Pendergast’s Polymorphic Path to PI

What’s up readers? Welcome to Week 3 of my summer research blog. For this week’s stimulating content I interviewed Dr. Pendergast, the PI of the lab I’m researching in. Dr. Pendergast has a great story about how she got to current position as a PI at Duke. I really enjoyed hearing how her career panned out since I am thinking about a similar path.

As an undergraduate, Dr. Pendergast majored in chemistry and minored in molecular biology. She was always interested in pursuing academic research as a career, so she completed graduate school in California and did a postdoc in Dr. Owen Witte’s lab at UCLA. She found an interest in tyrosine kinases at UCLA, and has since continued studying these cell messengers at Duke. Her lab focuses on a specific kinase, the ABL kinase, and its role in cancer metastasis. It was interesting to hear how the direction of her research has changed through her time at Duke. She began researching the ABL kinase in the context of leukemia, and she even used developmental biology experiments to understand the kinase’s functions in cancer. Later she focused more on solid tumors and metastasis, and finally settling on brain metastasis as the primary focus of the lab which is where the lab is now. The non-undergraduate members of her lab are composed of four graduate students and one senior scientist. When I asked her why she doesn’t have any postdocs in her lab, Dr. Pendergast explained that she loves the energy that graduate students have in the lab and that training graduate students is one of her favorite aspects of being a PI. She also told me that the senior scientist in the lab brings really valuable experience to the lab. The combination of old and young makes the lab a vibrant and successful environment. For a fun conclusion to the interview, I asked Dr. Pendergast if there had been any disasters in the lab. Thankfully, she said she has never had any major accidents in the lab, but one student from another lab nearby did accidentally stab herself with a pipette tip! The student was alright afterwards. It was really informative to hear Dr. Pendergast’s path from her time as an undergraduate to PI at Duke. Maybe my path will follow a similar route and I’ll end up as a PI somewhere too. Over the next week I’ll present a chalk talk of my project to the rest of the BSURF program and then reflect on someone else’s for next week’s blog post. See ya then!


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