Kaitlind Howard is a Ph.D. candidate in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Program at the University of Kentucky. We recently got to chat with her about her Ph.D. research, her love of chemistry, and the challenges involved with working in her field. Read on for the many great insights Kaitlind shared.
Kaitlind was the first person in her family to attend college, which is a major accomplishment. Originally, she planned to study engineering because she likes to invent things, but then she slowly moved towards chemistry and biochemistry because she enjoyed learning about how everything in the body works together. Along with this interest, Kaitlind was also inspired to pursue chemistry by her high school teacher, Mrs. Minor. She became a mentor to Kaitlind and shared her experiences as an undergraduate chemistry major. She also cautioned that with a bachelor’s degree, Kaitlind would be limited in the research work she could do. This prepared Kaitlind to pursue higher degrees after she finished her undergraduate program. Kaitlind loved everything she was hearing and decided on the spot that this is what she was born to do. She rushed home to tell her parents that she wanted a career in research and that she was going to get a Ph.D. and has not looked back since.
During her undergraduate studies, Kaitlind worked on two projects which helped prepare her for her current Ph.D. program. The first was a project at Eastern Kentucky University where she was working on cancer research. During this period, she learned how to become better at time management, read difficult scientific articles, and apply what she has been learning in the classroom to the real world. She also enjoyed her time in the lab so much that this truly solidified her decision to pursue a career in research. The second project was a summer undergraduate research program at the University of Kentucky working under Professor Garneau-Tsodikova (keep an eye out for a future interview with her!). Here, Kaitlind studied the development of small molecules with antifungal activity. During the program, she co-authored two papers and learned many new techniques which further prepared her to graduate and move on to a Ph.D. program.
Today, Kaitlind is in a pharmaceutical sciences program that allows students to study the development of drugs through all stages, from drug discovery to clinical trials, and even how medications that have been on the market for years affect patients. Students that graduate with a degree in pharmaceutical sciences can go on to work in academia, industry, management care, or regulatory organizations. Kaitlind really likes this program because there are tracks that cover the entire spectrum of drug discovery and development giving students the option to focus on many different areas. For her project, Kaitlind is working to develop small molecules with antifungal activity. She studies fungi and makes derivatives of antifungal agents that fungi have become resistant to. In her area of study, Kaitlind tries to understand how diseases are affected by different types of medicine and which medicines work best. Then aims to find new drugs that could stop diseases more efficiently while also not harming patients. With drug discovery, she collects structural data to determine if she has synthesized the correct molecule. If the molecule is correct and pure, then biological testing is performed to identify active compounds. This is a really interesting project and we hope Kaitlind will share updates as she gathers results.
One of Kaitlind’s favorite things about her line of work is that even if she makes a mistake it is ok because she can learn from them. She also loves that the areas where she can focus her research are so varied. Finally, she is happy that the work she is doing can help improve the lives of patients across the world.
Of course, working in this field also provides its share of challenges. One challenge being, the amount of information available around these topics and knowing where to start when doing research. Additionally, Kaitlind pointed out than to be efficient in this field it is important to dedicate time to improving your lab skills. Along with this, she mentioned that it can become difficult to develop soft skills while in a research role.
In order to develop more soft skills, Kaitlind is taking a community outreach course. Through this, she has worked on her blog, became more involved with the scientific community on Twitter (follow her program, @UK_COP), and worked with a student outreach program called SciCats. All of this has allowed Kaitlind to improve her communication and writing skills, which are important for scientists doing research.
Before ending our conversation, we asked Kaitlind what advice she would give to someone interested in pursuing a career in chemistry research. Her response was, “Never be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. This is not an easy career path, but if you are passionate about discovery and science then this is the right field for you!” We loved hearing how passionate Kaitland is about her line of work. At Conseris, we are committed to helping researchers with the projects they care about. To learn more, start a free trial today.