Anh “Kim” Trinh Nguyen is a 5th year Microbiology & Infectious Diseases PhD student who will soon be defending her research. Through her experiences and lessons at the Graduate School, she paints a realistic, positive picture of a PhD degree in Microbiology. Trinh Nguyen is in the lab of Anne-Marie Krachler, PhD, and her research focuses on enterohemorrhagic E. coli and cell turnover in a zebrafish model.
What ignited your passion for science?
I’ve been interested in science since I was a kid. I remember asking my mom to buy me a book on parasites, and even though it was a bit disgusting, I couldn’t look away. As I grew older, my interest in science became more focused on the human body and the ways in which diseases can affect it. Learning about the complexities of human diseases and how they impact individuals and society was both challenging and rewarding, and I quickly became drawn to the field of microbiology. I was fascinated by the idea of how the smallest organisms can have such a profound impact on human health.
What ultimately drove me to pursue a career in science was a lucky opportunity to work as an intern with 3M in their Infection Prevention division. Being able to see the collaborations and innovative research that goes into products that can improve human health firsthand was an amazing experience.
Lastly, there’s also something really satisfying about using a pipette, and you get to do a lot of that in science!
Why did you choose the GSBS for your research education?
I chose the Graduate School primarily because of the student-focused environment. I appreciated that there was a strong emphasis on graduate education and that there were no teaching requirements. The stipend and cost of living were reasonable. I also valued the fact that the GSBS is located near other top-tier research institutions, making collaborations and lots of cool science possible.
How did you choose a lab or advisor?
From the outset, I was determined to find a lab where I could study not only the pathogen itself, but also the complex host responses to infection. For me, it was also important to pick a lab and a PI that encouraged positive learning, taking risks, and valued a healthy work-life balance (as much as one can in graduate school). My problem was that during my rotations I had two labs I was torn between! I decided that I wanted to try to bridge the research of both labs and designed a project to do so. I ended up proposing a collaboration between the labs of Anne-Marie Krachler, PhD, at UTHealth Houston and George Eisenhoffer, PhD, at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and have been grateful to have their mentorship on my journey through graduate school.
What is your current research about and how did you choose it?
Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (referred to as EHEC) is a type of bacteria that can cause serious illness when people eat contaminated food such as spinach, beef, or dairy products. These bacteria need to be able to attach themselves to surfaces in the intestine. Our intestine, much like our skin, acts as a protective barrier against all kinds of harmful environmental stimuli, including bacteria and toxins. The focus of my work has been to generate a zebrafish model that can have specific and controlled removal of cells in the intestine, thus allowing us to study how disruptions to the intestinal barrier can influence inflammation and EHEC infection.
What goals do you have for your career?
I look forward to transitioning into industry. I want to be able to leverage the knowledge and skills I’ve gained during graduate school towards the development of new diagnostics, therapies, or other innovative products. Hopefully, I can do this back in my home state of Minnesota.
What has been your biggest success?
I have forged meaningful relationships with some amazing people, many of whom I am grateful to have in my life as friends. I also received awards from the GSBS and became an MBID T32 predoctoral trainee. Although I have faced many personal and professional challenges during my time at the Graduate School, these experiences have helped me grow a lot both as a scientist and as an individual.
What has been your biggest failure and how did you overcome it?
I have had projects fail on me and had to pivot my research goals several times throughout my graduate career. There were even times I sat in the office of Michael Lorenz, PhD, and considered quitting. However, with the support of others and by taking a short break to evaluate my goals and options, I was able to persevere. Now I’m at the point of preparing for my defense!
What advice would you give to a first-year student?
Who you choose as your PI is so important to your success and happiness in graduate school. Projects can change, and they most likely will. Pick someone who will support you 110% through this long journey. And remember that mentorship can come in many different forms and from many different people: postdocs, other graduate students, committee members, and even your department. Reach out to them when you need it! Lastly, failure happens, and it happens a lot. It can be incredibly tough. Be sure to take care of yourself and try to remember that your failures do not define you! Make sure to enjoy the little things in life and stay connected with the people who matter most to you as you navigate through graduate school.
What’s something you like to do when you are not working in the lab?
In my free time, I enjoy playing video games (I’m a big fan of the Souls and Nioh series and Monster Train), discussing skincare and makeup online, reading, working out, and dressing my very patient cat in various costumes.