Former ISHI Student Ambassadors

Where are They Now?

Interviews Written and Condensed by Tara Luther, Promega

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In 2019, for the 30th anniversary of ISHI, we launched the Student Ambassador program. We knew that the next generation of forensic scientists were doing amazing things, but we never imagined just how inspirational they'd truly be.

As we begin our search for the next batch of Student Ambassadors, we thought there was no better time to catch up with the ladies who started it all to see what they were up to now.

For this article we interviewed:

  • Allison Sherier, Ph.D. Candidate, University of North Texas Health Science Center
  • Mirna Ghemrawi, Teaching Assistant and Ph.D. Student, Florida International University
  • Fabiana Taglia, Ph.D. Candidate, Florida International University
  • Rachel Kieser, Postdoctoral Fellow, Houston Methodist Research Institute | Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University

If you know someone who would be interested in becoming an ISHI Student Ambassador, or would like to submit an application yourself, you can learn more here.

How has life changed for you over the past year and a half?

Allie: Since ISHI 2019 in beautiful Palm Springs, CA a lot has changed. The world as we know it has drastically changed. Personally, I have continued working on my PhD and received a National Institute of Justice Fellowship in 2020. I am excited to have received this wonderful award and look forward to spending my time focusing on my dissertation work.

Mirna: I guess the main change is that life became quieter and more isolated (for everyone). Although it slowed down many milestones, I was able to finish my course requirements and I am aiming to apply for my candidacy exam this semester. It also gave me time to write two manuscripts: The genital microbiome and its potential for detecting sexual assault, which was published, and the other is being reviewed. Two more papers are almost ready too!

Fabiana: My life has changed a lot in the last year. I passed my candidacy exam on April 2020. I’ve been assigned to a very interesting project and hopefully I will graduate this Fall 2021.

Rachel: In my time since being an ISHI Ambassador, almost every aspect of my life has changed. This change extends beyond simply the impact of a global pandemic, yet that did not help in the least. In the past year and a half, I earned my doctorate and am “PHinisheD.” I moved across the great state of Texas and began a new career in the field of single cell genomics as a postdoctoral fellow.

Has your career path changed since we first met you?

Allie: I do not want to say my career path has changed because I am still learning about new opportunities. I am still actively looking at post-doctoral positions, government, and private industry jobs. My main goal for my career is to enjoy my work and support others in their forensic endeavors.

Mirna: My career goal didn’t shift from academia but I am also open to industry, particularly research and development. I am working on widening my professional network in the forensic community, and thanks to opportunities like ISHI ambassadorship, I gained more confidence in approaching people and connecting with other scientists in the field. Additionally, I also started to work on my science communication writing skills (still an amateur) so I was delighted to contribute to three blogs that were shared on ISHI News website: How to Choose a Research Thesis Topic, No Nuclear DNA in Rootless Hair: Myth or Fact?, and PhDs: From Distressing to De-Stressing.

Fabiana: The career path didn’t change since we met. I’m still in Dr.McCord’s lab .

Rachel: Although my career path has altered from its original trajectory, I feel that my career can only benefit from this difference in perspective. Currently, I am navigating the world of single cell genomics and its application to cancer genetics and cardiovascular research. It may be at times an intimidating transition, but it is fascinating. I was fortunate to have been selected as the first postdoctoral fellow to a new team under the mentorship of Dr. Ruli Gao at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and its affiliated academic institution, Weill Cornell College of Medicine at Cornell University. Dr. Gao is known for her groundbreaking contributions to the field of single cell genomics. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for our group.

Did being an ISHI Student Ambassador assist you in your career?

Allie: Of course! A career is so closely tied to your ability to network. Being an ISHI Ambassador allowed me to meet and talk to so many people. There is no way I would have been able to meet so many elite people if I had not been selected as an ISHI Ambassador. I wish ISHI would let me be an Ambassador again!

Mirna: Yes, it definitely did. Other than the networking and interviewing skills I gained, being an ISHI Ambassador gave me some “fame”. I got featured twice on FIU CASE News (college of Arts, Sciences and Education), one of which is with Fabi <3 [1,2]. I was also selected to be part of the young investigator community at QIAGEN and got featured on their website that was later shared on “QIAGEN Life Sciences” official LinkedIn account [3]. I was one of the few who got recognized by my alma mater university on its 65th anniversary as part of their “Meet our Alumni” series [4]. Last but not least, I got invited twice to give an online workshop on how to apply for scholarships, the does and don’ts, and how to prepare to become a strong candidate for scholarship applications. I was delighted to share my experience and to motivate students back home [5,6].

Fabiana: It will help me for sure, since I’m working with a lawyer to apply for a green card via the NationaI Interest Waiver petition, which is related to scientific merit. Therefore the importance of the work I am doing and any accomplishments I reached will assist.

Rachel: Being an ISHI Ambassador was an unforgettable opportunity as it afforded me the chance to really show what I was capable of as a young investigator. As any PhD student knows, your research becomes such a huge part of your life in those years of hard work. One of the most meaningful takeaways from the ISHI ambassadorship was that it allowed me to showcase my completed doctoral work. In addition, I was honored to be a female scientist interviewed for Ann MacPhetridge’s “A Passion for Science: Women in Forensic Science” article. Above all, as an ISHI Ambassador, I gained invaluable connections and friendships. It was an experience that I will never forget and to Promega, I am most thankful.

What’s new on the personal side?

Allie: My little boy is turning two in May. So, any parent can appreciate how crazy it was working from home multiple times with no childcare in 2020. He is a smart boy who loves animals and constantly keeps us on our toes. Both of my dogs are still doing well and have loved me working from home.

Rachel: Outside academics, I finally moved in with my husband (as long distance for 8 years was more than enough) and we built our dream house, all just in time to quarantine with the rest of the world.

How have you been navigating the pandemic? What challenges did that present for you and how have you overcome?

Allie: As mentioned above, no childcare at times has been a struggle in our house. As far as my personal work, the pandemic has allowed me to work from home and spend more time with my family. It has been a long learning process and my work ‘desk’ has changed from the living room couch, to my bed, to hiding in the kitchen floor, to finally setting up the visitor’s bedroom as a more permanent office space.

Like so many, we sadly lost two family members this year. One was due to COVID complications. Nothing can replace the family members we lost but we are doing all we can to help our son know these wonderful people that were lost too soon.

My co-workers have made the pandemic a little easier by having Teams/Message groups to stay in contact whether that is work related or just talking about our lives during the pandemic. While there is no good time for a pandemic, I think my lab has been great about supporting each other and checking in with each other regularly.

Mirna: When everything suddenly shut down, the idea of wearing and seeing people with masks was weird and I felt that I was in an “outdoor hospital”. But school wise, I had time to reflect on my progress and shift my focus to reading and writing. So, I invested the first chunk of the pandemic in working on grant proposals and research paper writing. The “wet lab” work was slowed down because of COVID, but we started to schedule our time in a way that only 1 or 2 individuals are in the lab at the same time. It is challenging, especially when you are social and you like to have people around you. But all in all, other than feeling lonely at work, we are thankfully still working towards our milestones.

Fabiana: Physically and mentally, the pandemic affected everyone a lot. In my case, I spent 3 months at home working and studying. The challenge was preparing my candidacy exam studying at home with a baby boy of 3 years old. The struggle was real, but thankfully, the help of my husband allowed me to take time to focus and I passed the exam.

What does the future hold for you?

Allie: Writing? Yes, I am positive more writing. That is what academics do, right?

Mirna: I am afraid I don’t have an answer because of all the uncertainties around me. Luckily, we now see the light at the end of the tunnel regarding COVID-19 and vaccination. But, on a personal level, I am still reluctant about stability and the future back in Lebanon. Regardless, I still have hopes, and I know that God has the best plan for everyone. So, I've got to be patient and have full faith in my creator who will guide me to what is best for me. I am hoping and working towards a brighter future.

Fabiana: In the near future, I hope to attend the next ISHI Symposium in person, and overall, my greatest expectation is to get a job! I can’t wait to start new professional experiences.

Anything else you’d like to include?

Allie: I want to say thank you to Promega. There are so many employees at Promega that have reached out to me over the past two years to see how I was doing. The opportunity to be an ISHI Ambassador was like nothing else I have experienced at a conference. That experience was due to Promega as a company and the wonderful people that developed the ISHI Ambassador position.

Fabiana: I just can’t wait to see my family, especially my parents, again. They are all in Italy, and due to this pandemic It’s more than a year since I've last seen them.