CMB Student – Angel McKay Whiteman

CMB Student - Angel McKay Whiteman
CMB Student – Angel McKay Whiteman

Tell a bit about your life before you joined CSU

I grew up in Ridgway, a town of 900 people in the mountains of southwest Colorado. I spent most of my childhood reading books, creating art, and playing outside, which developed my interest in plants. This led me to pursue a BS in Horticulture at CSU. Moving to a place as large as Fort Collins was a shocking experience, but it’s become my home just as much as Ridgway over the past five years. I developed an interest in molecular biology while working in the Cancer Prevention Lab as an undergraduate, which led me to pursue a master’s in CMB.

Tell us about your research project and what attracted you to your area of interest

I joined the Medford Lab due to my interest in using synthetic biology to redesign plants with useful traits. I’m expressing transcription factor genes in A. thaliana under an epidermal promoter for ectopic expression of the hydrophobic biopolymer suberin. Besides increasing understanding about the biosynthesis of suberin and how these transcription factors are involved in its regulation, this knowledge could potentially be used to tailor lipid composition in plant roots to create plants more resistant to abiotic and biotic stresses from the rhizosphere.

What do you do to relax when you’re not in the lab?

When I’m not in the lab or working from home, I enjoy taking care of my many plants and settling onto the couch with my cat, a cup of tea, and a good book.

What is your favorite thing about the CMB program/CSU/Fort Collins?

My favorite thing about the CMB program is that it’s interdisciplinary. I enjoy hearing about research that I wouldn’t be exposed to if I were in a more specific program and talking to other graduate students with different educational backgrounds from me.

What has surprised you about graduate school?

As an undergraduate, I didn’t think about or expect labs to be run differently. As a graduate student, I was surprised to see so many differences in the lab I’m now in, my lab as an undergraduate, and the labs of other graduate students I’ve talked to. Everyone has different styles and ways of doing things, which I now appreciate. This has helped me to think about the type of lab I would like to run in the future.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

With taking classes, teaching, and research, my biggest challenge so far has been keeping track of and completing everything on time. Utilizing my phone’s calendar and having a to-do list has helped a great deal.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

After I receive my master’s in CMB, I plan to pursue a PhD outside of Colorado. My ultimate goal is to start up my own lab using synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to develop novel pathways and products in plants. I’m particularly interested in the production of bioactive compounds beneficial to human health.