Alex Kirkpatrick: Cats, Bacteria, and True Crime Documentaries
Alex Kirkpatrick is a student in our Master in Science in Immunology and Infection program. She fell in love with science early on in high school.
“Somewhere between my first dissection experiment and preparing for the science fair,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t quite yet know what my role as a scientist would look like or what I would study, but I knew I wanted to somehow become an active contributor to science and learn as much as possible about it.”
Kirkpatrick was drawn to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio because we are part of UT System, one of the nation’s largest systems of higher education, with 14 institutions that educate more than 228,000 students.
“I am a D.C. native, Maryland raised, Texas transplant who love cats, bacteria and true-crime documentaries. I picked UT Health San Antonio because, not only is it part of the successful UT system but also because it’s a school focused on teaching about health and sciences,” she said. “Also, it had a program dedicated specifically to Microbiology & Immunology.”
Currently, she is working in the lab of Dr. T.R. Kannan on a unique bacterial toxin generated by Mycoplasma pneumoniae called Community Acquired Respiratory Distress Syndrome (CARDS) toxin, which was actually discovered by her mentor’s group here at UT Health San Antonio.
“I first became interested in working with CARDS toxin and M. pneumoniae because I’m quite passionate about bacterial pathogenesis,” she said. “Learning and discovering what makes microbes tick is something I find fascinating and certainly enjoy.”
Kirkpatrick is hard at work trying to figure out the “in’s and out’s” of M. pneumoniae’s CARDS toxin and how it interacts with our cells.
“The plan is to apply the knowledge gained to vaccine and treatment development in the future. Researching this topic is important due to the vast number of individuals affected by M. pneumoniae infections,” she said. “Just for reference, M. pneumoniae is the #1 cause of community-acquired pneumonia in pediatrics and #2 among adults, not to mention the wide assortment of non-respiratory conditions it can cause.”
In addition to research, Kirkpatrick is passionate about science outreach and serves as the Voelcker Bioscience Teaching Academy Graduate Student Outreach Representative.
“My best memory thus far would have to be participating in “Career Day” at a local school. I got to speak to 8th grader about a career in science and answer their question about what it’s like working in a lab and things to consider. During this experience, I learned that, for one, 8th graders these days are pretty knowledgeable. Also, that as scientist, we have a commitment to the field itself and the lives of the individuals that our work impacts but it’s up to you to bridge the two and to do so in a way that’s uniquely yours.”
Outside of graduate school, she likes to explore San Antonio.
“Since I’ve only been in San Antonio for about six months, outside of school I like to explore all the things this fine city has to offer with my husband and dogs or simply staying in and satisfying the microbiologist detective in me by cleaning my house with ID Discovery playing in the background.”
After she graduates, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. program.
“I’ve learned to take life one step at a time and prioritize quality vs quantity,” she said. “Until then, I plan to rock this master’s program, stay involved with community outreach, support my fellow students, and never stop loving & learning science.”
This article was written by Charlotte Anthony, marketing specialist at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. This article is part of the “Meet The Researcher” series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.