Hajim Spotlights

Emily Laskey

Class year: 2021
Major: biochemistry, psychology
Challenge: Engineer Better Medicine

How did you hear about the Grand Challenges Program?

I heard about the Grand Challenges Program through the program coordinator after completing a project on developing a novel diagnostic for endometriosis as part of the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition this past fall. The project had encompassed many components of the Grand Challenges Program and I had completed many of the requirements without even realizing it!

Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges program?

After hearing about the program, I read more about some of the projects that students have completed in the past and how the approach provided by the Grand Challenges Program had positively impacted their professional goals. As I was currently considering a career as a physician-scientist, I thought this program would be a good opportunity to learn more about how research and medicine work together to improve global healthcare.

Which of the five “competencies” (research, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurship/innovation, global, service) did you most enjoy completing? Why?

This one is difficult! As someone who wants to pursue research in the future, I definitely loved having the opportunity to work as a science manager on the project and learn more about the careful planning and design that goes into developing a novel diagnostic tool. However, I think following the competency of taking an interdisciplinary approach was critical for ultimately creating a beneficial and comprehensive design. Collaborating with philosophers and global health experts provided a different perspective on the research that truly allowed the final diagnostic design to benefit as many people as possible and raise awareness for disparities in healthcare.

Do you think you will want to continue work in the field of your “challenge” after graduation? How?

I would absolutely love to continue engineering better medicines after I graduate! For a long time, I was on the fence about pursuing either a career in medicine or a career in research and at the start of this project I was just beginning to learn about the career trajectory of a physician-scientist. Completing this project, I was able to learn firsthand how passion for medicine and caring for patients can inspire pioneering studies and research into novel diagnostics and treatments. This experience solidified my interest in applying to MD-PhD programs and pursuing a career as a physician-scientist so that I can use clinical observations and connections with patients to drive the development of better medicine.

How did being at the University of Rochester help you to complete this program?

Attending the University was helpful for this challenge due to its close connection with its medical center and the expertise of many researchers on both campuses. It was easy to find and connect with physicians in the field of endometriosis who could provide insight and feedback on the need and implementation of a diagnostic tool for endometriosis in clinics. The research labs were also extremely useful for learning more about the emerging scientific techniques being used to develop diagnostics and how those could be applied specifically to endometriosis.

For you, what is the value of the Grand Challenges program?

The Grand Challenges Program pushed me to learn more about the different aspects that go into developing better medicine. I had always thought that developing a diagnostic or therapeutic was dependent solely on research, but I learned that it also includes a lot of ethical discussion, economic analysis, and collaboration with global organizations. As someone who has interests in biochemistry, psychology, and philosophy, I was ecstatic to learn how these aspects of my education could all work together to positively impact patient care across the world.

Click here to see Emily's poster for University's Undergraduate Research Expo.