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#STEMStories: Dr. Marley, Postdoctoral Scholar, USA

#STEMStories: Dr. Marley, Postdoctoral Scholar, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Dr. Marley Caballero Van Dyke, I have a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology with an emphasis in Medical Mycology. I’m currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at Northern Arizona University in Bridget Barker’s laboratory. My research currently focuses on Coccidioides, the fungal organism that causes Valley Fever. This fungal organism is a Biosafety Level 3 organism which means it requires high containment research and more personal protective equipment is required while conducting research (see picture below). My work focuses on understanding host pathogenesis across species of Coccidioides. My goal is to have my own laboratory where I can focus on developing a broad-spectrum vaccine against multiple fungal pathogens and mentor the next generation of scientists.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

My undergraduate studies started at a community college in my hometown Waco, TX. I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences; however, I changed my major many times from radiology to physics/physicist. I had an amazing biology instructor, Professor Stephanie Randell, at McLennan Community College. She introduced me to the book The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. I knew from then on I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to do research on infectious diseases. No one in my family was a scientist so I had to figure out my path on my own. I moved to Houston for my Bachelor of Science degree and attended the University of Houston - Clear Lake. The major reason I attended this school was cost. It was one of the cheapest universities to get a Bachelor of Science in Texas. During my undergraduate studies, I got to experience my first hands-on research experience in Galveston, TX at University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) as a SURP, summer undergraduate research program, student. Over the summer, I got to study Chagas disease and I fell in love with research. After my Bachelor of Science degree, I furthered my training in infectious disease research by participating in an extremely competitive program, the PREP, Post-Baccalaureate Research and Education Program, at UTMB. This was a year long program and my project focused on the susceptibility of mouse macrophages and dendritic cells to infection with La Crosse Virus. This experience solidified my choice to continue infectious disease research and obtain my PhD. I got my PhD at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) where I found my love of medical mycology in the laboratory of Floyd Womley Jr. My project focused on the potential to develop a broad-spectrum vaccine against Cryptococcus. It took me 5.5 years to complete my PhD and I decided to stay in the medical mycology field for my current post doctoral studies. Now I’m studying the fungal organism Coccidioides in Flagstaff, Arizona at Northern Arizona University.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I’m constantly learning something new and improving my skill set. Every day poses a new challenge and I never get bored. Little is known about the fungal organism I work on and every new piece of data I finish is truly new information in the field. Also, my current mentor Bridget Barker truly gives me creative freedom and I enjoy our projects and our discussions about not only science but life.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

I try my best to work 8-5pm Monday through Friday. I take evenings off to relax and spend time with my family. I love playing video games, watching a movie (Big Star Wars fan), or reading a fiction book. Each of these help me take my mind completely away from science and help my mind refresh. Additionally, I have a 3 year old daughter named Attlee and I love taking her to a local park so we both can refresh and enjoy the outdoors.

Recent Story: I just recently submitted a grant while also getting an oral presentation ready to present in front of the whole department, and finish experiments before winter break. I took those three really hard and intense weeks one day at a time and I learned to say “no” to other request so I could focus on my tasks at hand. I always prioritize and focus on one or two items a day. For example, I would write from 8am-12pm, take a lunch, then head to the lab from 1-5pm.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I never had just one main role model. I’ve had many role models in my life along the way. When I was little, I was very interested in space. I really looked up to Albert Einstein. As I grew older, I started reading Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku. Then, after reading The Hot Zone I really looked up to the scientists in the book particularly C.J. Peters. I didn’t hear too much about women scientists growing up but nowadays new role models are coming to light in entertainment such as the movie Hidden Figures (Katherine Johnson) and Twitter. I follow many women scientists in my field as well as other fields that I look up to.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I would go back to my 2nd-3rd year PhD and tell myself to keep pushing forward. All the failed experiments will eventually work out. Your writing skills get better as you keep writing. Be yourself and don’t be afraid to apply for things you don’t think you qualify for.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  • My top number 1 tip: always apply for multiple opportunities. You never know which one will take you towards your future career path. I didn’t get into graduate school the first time but did get into a one year post-baccalaureate fellowship and I loved every minute of it. Also, I didn’t think I wanted to do mycology research but after doing a lab rotation I knew it was the right fit for me.
  • Tip 2: It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” It is impossible to know everything. Don’t pretend to know everything.
  • Tip 3: Be yourself. Academia may take you to many cities and you meet many people. Always be yourself.

8. How do you measure your success?

I used to think my success was only about the amount of knowledge I knew. Rather, I’ve realized my success can be measured by the way I utilize my current knowledge to answer scientific questions, create new scientific questions, troubleshoot experiments, and create/design new experiments. Each of these are vital to writing scientific papers and getting grants. Which is the typical measure of success in the sciences.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

Here is my google scholar page with all my papers: https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&authuser=1&user=QvRcg_sAAAAJ
If there is a paper someone is interested in reading and they don’t have access, send me an email: Marley.Van-Dyke@nau.edu.

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

My Twitter handle: FantasticYeasts https://twitter.com/FantasticYeasts Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marleyz28