Alumni Spotlight: 12 Questions with Dr. Kelly Grimes
1) Tell me about yourself.
I’m originally from Philly, but after grad school in San Antonio, I moved to Cincinnati for a postdoc in January 2016. I love dogs (especially my own), hockey, cute animal videos, and desserts of all kinds.
2) When did you realize you were passionate about science?
I was always interested in science (I loved Bill Nye and the Magic School Bus growing up), but I had an absolutely amazing biology teacher in 6th grade, Mrs. Rosenzweig, who really cemented my love for science.
3) Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
I had a fantastic professor, Mark Haussmann, whose Biology of Aging course I took in my senior year of college. I found myself more passionate about that class than all the others that I took in undergrad, so I looked for grad programs that would allow me to study the subject in-depth. I ultimately chose The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and a Ph.D. in Physiology because it gave me the chance to work with and to learn from the world-renowned aging biology researchers out at the Barshop Institute.
4) What were some of the highlights during your time in graduate school? Did you win any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?
One of the best parts of grad school for me was just to get to work with Dr. Rochelle Buffenstein, my former mentor, and her amazing naked mole rats. I was extremely fortunate to get to do the research that I did, especially knowing that fewer than 20 labs worldwide study this species. We also were the first lab to study and publish on the naked mole rat’s cardiac function. I was particularly proud when one of our papers that I was first author on was chosen to be published in the American Journal of Physiology’s APS Select issue.
5) Tell me more about your current job. What do you do?
I’m currently a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Jeff Molkentin in the Molecular Cardiovascular Biology Department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I’m particularly thankful to be here since his lab is large and well funded, which gives me the opportunity to do a lot of experiments I could only dream of in other places.
6) If you are still doing research- what kind of research are you working on currently? Why is it important? Why do you enjoy working on this topic?
I’m currently working on the mechanisms that determine the way cardiomyocytes grow. Understanding these are critical because abnormal growth of these cells is a major factor in the development of heart diseases like hypertrophic and dilated cardiomyopathies. Since heart disease leads to one in four deaths in the U.S. and is the number one killer worldwide, there’s a large chance that someone you know has cardiomyocytes that will grow abnormally and contribute to that person getting heart disease. I really love doing this research because it’s potentially impactful for so many people.
7) What was your career path? How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
In grad school, our lab was more focused on the animal model rather than a particular disease, pathway, or protein. With everyone in my former lab focused on a different aspect of the naked mole rat’s aging or physiology, my mentor made sure I got a really wide-ranging education. Being a part of the Barshop Institute also pushed me to learn about a lot of topics outside of my direct research, since aging is such a multi-factorial process. This has really helped me with my new molecular-based research – even though I’m manipulating proteins, I can step back and see what my findings mean for the overall physiology of the heart.
8) What is the most challenging part of your work?
When I first started my postdoc, it was extremely challenging to get myself up to speed in a very different discipline. Even though I’m still studying the heart, I had to switch gears from physiology to learning molecular- and cellular-based approaches. My new lab also relies heavily on mouse genetics and makes lots of transgenic mice for our research. I never needed this knowledge in grad school — there are no knockout or transgenic naked mole rats!
9) What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The results that come from pushing myself beyond my comfort zone are always the most rewarding thing for me. It’s always painful initially, but when I finally master a new technique or get a good grasp on the literature in a new research area, it’s a great feeling.
10) What has been your proudest achievement?
I’m really proud of the body of work that I was able to produce in grad school. The NIH F32 grant that I’ve been able to secure as a postdoc also was pretty exciting.
11) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
You have to be truly, madly, deeply in love with science and the academic career path. Rejection and failure are annoyingly commonplace – whether it’s from manuscript and grant reviewers or just your experiments not working. If you don’t get really excited about the small victories, it’s hard to weather the big disappointments. Cultivating a healthy amount of sticktoitiveness or grit can really help you out.
12) What do you like to do outside of work?
The time that I do get outside of work is usually spent doing my best impression of Chip and Joanna Gaines along with my husband, as we attempt to fix up the house we just bought. Otherwise, I’m playing with my two dogs, Claude and Winston.