John B. George Award: Katie Slavens
Katie Slavens has been named the 2013 recipient of the John B. George Award, an honor awarded each year to the outstanding graduating senior from the University of Idaho College of Science. Katie, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, began her UI career as a Biology major, switching in turn to Microbiology and finally to Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. As she puts it, “My interests just kept going smaller and smaller.”
The biology of viruses has attracted Katie’s attention since her freshman year of college. She recalls a group project in Tom Bitterwolf’s honors Chemistry class. “We had to write a research paper, and my group chose the Ebola virus as our topic. It was so exciting – it hooked me on small biology!” That experience led Katie to seek out opportunities to work on virus research. She typed “University of Idaho – virus” in a computer search and came up with the name of Professor Holly Wichman. So she contacted Dr. Wichman and asked if she could be a dishwasher in the lab. “And that’s how I started working in the Wichman lab – I washed glassware that next semester.” By her sophomore year, though, she was helping with the lab’s work, and is now, as a senior, an integral part of the team. Katie’s research work deals with the evolution of codon de-optimization of phages, an idea proposed as a potential vaccine design strategy. Her work with Postdoctoral Fellow Martina Ederer investigates a key assumption of that strategy by testing de-optimized phages ability to recover fitness through evolution.
Katie has also taken advantage of opportunities to present her scientific work, and has developed an enviable professional poise in doing so. At a recent research symposium, the symposium organizers received this comment in reference to having seen Katie’s presentation: “We heard an astoundingly good research talk by a young undergraduate woman, who presented extremely sophisticated science and did it with the poise and clarity that would be admirable in a seasoned professional.”
Following her UI graduation Katie will take up graduate study at the University of Washington this fall, continuing with her current interest in viral evolution. She hasn’t decided on a career at this point – whether to go into academia or the biotechnology industry. But there’s one element that is sure to be part of the career she chooses. “I don’t want to be bored with my work”, she says, “so I know I’ll go into research”.