Alexandra Elata

Arlington, MA, US
Field of Work 
Job Title or "Student" 
Research operations and program manager
Education Level 
Profile Biography 
I am a project manager in the boston area at an rna biotech company called moderna. I completed my phd in the Neurosciences graduate program at UCSD in RNA decay in developing mice in response to environmental toxicants like arsenic.

Since I was little, I wanted to be a scientist. One moment that stands out was watching Gattaca in my 8th grade science class. The movie showcases the power of our DNA, which instantly fascinated me. How can a string made up of only 4 letters shape me, other people, plants, animals, and bacteria to have such different shapes and functions? That was my start of wanting to become a molecular biologist- studying the molecules (such as DNA, RNA and proteins) that make up living things.

I started to get interested in neuroscience as well, first at a summer program called Academic Connections, for high school students. There, I learned about cellular and molecular neuroscience, and was taught by a fantastic woman who went on to medical school. I really enjoyed learning about action potentials in frog legs, and doing hands-on experiments with axons.

I further developed a love of neuroscience after reading Oliver Sacks' book The man who mistook his wife for a hat, for a cognitive science course in college. The brain is such an interesting organ and controls so much, yet is poorly understood. I went on to do research on place cells as an undergraduate, working in awake behaving rats with characteristics of alzheimer's disease. I also was able to participate in a fantastic program, the Amgen Scholars program, open to college students who want to pursue a PhD or MD/PhD, and work in a research lab over the summer.

Directly after college, I went back to UCSD for a PhD. When I first got there, I wasn't sure what lab would be a great fit for me, since most of my research experience so far was in systems neuroscience (how neurons connect to each other and make action potentials), but I really wanted to study what was happening in neurons at the molecular level (back to my love of DNA). I picked a lab studying signaling molecules called Wnt and Sonic Hedgehog (Fly biologists name genes in really interesting ways!), in development of the spinal cord in mice. This lab turned out to not be the best fit for me, both because the mentorship style didn't match my working style, and because the project really wasn't delving deep enough into molecular biology for my interests. I then switched at the beginning of my 4th year into a molecular lab, studying RNA decay (actually not all of the RNA makes it into protein in a cell!).

After my PhD, i wanted to move cities both to experience seasons and explore careers off the bench. I did a summer fellowship at a venture capital company, then found a job as portfolio manager at a company started called inari. I recently changed roles to manage their soy project.

Advice- take advantage of the opportunities you have in high school, and especially college! Whether that be a new student org, research opportunities, studying abroad (I went to Rome for my classical studies minor!), intramural sports, or something else- you never know what you might learn and who you might meet.
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