Student Spotlight with Olivia Weeks

Olivia Weeks has been selected by HSCI to receive the 2015 Sternlicht Director’s Fund Fellowship. The Fund was established in 2007 and has supported the educational pursuits of nine graduate students and two postdoctoral fellows participating in type 1 diabetes researcher at Harvard University.

Matrix: Olivia, HSCI has awarded you the Sternlicht Director’s Fellowship for 2015, which will cover your graduate school expenses for two years. Congratulations! What motivated you to apply for the award?

Olivia:  Well, I’m in Dr. Wolfram Goessling’s lab.  We’re a zebrafish development lab, and I work on the development of the liver and pancreas. I’m interested in the basic biology of how the endoderm is specified and how those cells, which are progenitors, subsequently go through differentiation steps to become mature cells.  I’m also generally interested in the genetics of human diseases, and I’m doing work to identify risk factors for chronic kidney disease, which affects a number of type 1 diabetes patients so that we can identify patients early on as being at risk for chronic diseases and kidney failure.

Matrix:  That sounds like pretty intense. Do you ever do any “light” reading when you’re not busy researching?

Olivia:  Well, it seems like I do nothing but read scientific papers. But I do I enjoy nonfiction. Origin of Species was probably the last book I read, because I had a summer student who was learning about evolution and biology and we were revisiting all the classics together.  My student was part of the program Project Success through the Harvard Medical School, where low income and minority students are placed in labs here to see what science internships are like, and they even get paid while they’re doing it! I really enjoyed being a part of that experience.

Matrix: That sounds like a great program, and you sound very busy! Any plans for rest and relaxation during the holiday break?

Olivia:  No, I’ll be wedding planning. I’m getting married in my home town, so every time I go back I have a list of things I have to do with my mother, who’s my matron-of-honor.

Matrix: Congratulations! You have so many things to celebrate. Wedding planning should be fun, if not relaxing. And where is home for you?

Olivia:  I’m from Corning, NY. It’s a small city in the Finger Lakes region. My neighbors are Mennonite farmers, and it’s very rural. There are a lot of fossils there, formed from glaciers coming through and digging up ancient rock. When I was younger I became very interested in science because I was always finding fossilized sea animals in my backyard.  I wanted to understand what they were and where they came from.

Matrix: Thanks so much for talking to us Olivia – and happy holidays to you and all of our readers. 

See also: Spotlight