Victoria Harcy, PhD 2016-Argueso Lab

Victoria Harcy earned her Ph.D. in the summer of 2016 after working under the mentorship of Dr. Lucas Argueso. As a graduate student in CSU’s Cell and Molecular Biology program, Victoria’s research focused on the study of mechanisms of chromosomal rearrangement relevant to many human diseases. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Washington State University, studying genomic mutation accumulation and cancer pathogenesis. After completing a postdoc, Victoria relocated to Idaho and began working as a Scientist at Idaho’s State Public Health Lab.

 Can you say a little bit about your current job/research?

I have been working at Idaho Bureau of Laboratories since the beginning of 2020, where I have been directly involved in the COVID-19 response on top of our standard clinical menu of diagnostic and surveillance testing within the Virology department. I was recently promoted to the position of Scientist III, and as an Assistant Manager now, I oversee a team of microbiologists. I am currently in training to become the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) Technical Supervisor over the Bacteriology program area here (which includes Mycobacteriology/TB in the BSL-3 suite). My goals are to streamline and create efficiencies of the processes for our analysts. My role also includes researching and implementing new technologies and validating them for use testing clinical specimens.

 What attracted you to the CMB Program at CSU?

My research interests have always been rooted in the comprehension of disease pathogenesis on a molecular basis but initially I was unsure of the direction that I wanted to steer my career path. On account of this, the inter-departmental nature of CMB’s Graduate Program was very appealing to me, allowing me to find what struck my interest along the way. The rigor of science-based courses at CSU as a R1 research university, the quality of the faculty, and the city of Fort Collins were all appealing. In CSU’s CMB program, I knew I would be challenged but also would be in an environment to enjoy myself and my surroundings.

How have you used the training you received through CMB?

My training in CMB greatly enhanced my leadership, communication, and organizational skills and prepared me for roles I have sought after graduation. I will always remember my time at CSU as one of great personal and professional growth. I had an amazing mentee experience working with Dr. Argueso who obviously has a genuine interest in his students’ success.  I developed into a more self-confident and independent scientist capable of critical thinking and communicating science to a variety of audiences. 

I have found that the most crucial skills I developed as a grad student that I now use on a regular basis are (in no particular order):

  • time-management (prioritizing and balancing multiple ongoing projects)
  • applying subject matter expertise and experimental technique knowledge to solve complex problems (identifying what types of experiments and how to troubleshoot issues that will help get you closer to reaching your objectives)
  • self-learning (taking the initiative to identify what you need to know more about along with the discipline to scour the literature to learn everything about it) 

 Do you have any favorite memories from your time at CSU?

My labmates and fellow CMB grad students enriched my grad school experience and helped create an overall positive and enjoyable work atmosphere in which to do science! We had a lot of fun working hard on our research projects, organizing/attending symposia and TA’ing, but also had a lot of fun outside the lab.

 What advice do you have for a new CMB graduate student?

Making forward progress on your graduate degree research is your primary goal, but there are so many opportunities available to enhance your own professional development while in grad school – but you need to seek them out for yourself. You never know what moment may have a formative or pivotal impact on your career and open the door to new opportunities! Leverage your network as a resource by looking and learning about positions that interest you whether in academia, industry or other. Present your research at poster symposiums (and/or volunteer as a research judge) which will provide experience communicating with others and help build your network. Attend workshops and seminars applicable to your interests or help with club’s activities which will all help make you a more well-rounded leader with a broad knowledge base. Also, while sometimes underappreciated, there is a lot of value in teaching and mentoring experience because you develop interpersonal communication skills and hone your ability to convey complex scientific topics to diverse groups of people.

 I had self-confidence issues as a junior graduate student, floundered for a while trying to sort out a Ph.D. project, and in general felt I was not getting the guidance I needed. I eventually ended up switching labs and joining Dr. Argueso’s lab which turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my grad student journey. The moral of the story: seek out advice from peers and faculty mentors that support you especially when you are struggling and don’t be afraid to move on if things are not working out for you. 

 What do you miss most about CSU and Fort Collins?

I lived in Fort Collins for 14 years and loved every minute of it! I miss the number of friends and professors that I was able to bond with in my time there. I also loved the advantage of having great outdoor opportunities nearby on local trails in the nice weather.  

Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

I am really excited about my new role because I have so much to learn to grow into this position. Some of my future goals for the next few years include leading my team of microbiologists on developing streamlined workflows and bringing on new technologies — a natural fit with my project management background. I also plan to take the lead on new challenges in the ever-evolving field of science, particularly genomics and personalized medicine, where advances in technology lend to applying new tools to old problems. I am excited to see what adventures life takes me on next!