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5 Questions for a Scientist: Virologist Shauna Bennett

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.


Get to know Shauna

Occupation: Postdoctoral Research Associate
Institution: The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA
Field: Virology
Focus: Adenovirus

Shauna is a postdoctoral researcher at The Scripps Research Institute where she is currently studying the biochemistry of adenovirus. She has been studying this virus for about three months now, after graduating with her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan. She likes to try to explain her research in her blog, at dontbeanoldsponge.blogspot.com.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
I study adenovirus, which is a virus that often infects people without them even noticing, but can cause some serious sicknesses depending on the person and the type of adenovirus. I’ve been spending my time trying to figure out how the virus comes apart inside the cell, because once we know what happens, we can look for drugs that stop it in its tracks.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
In high school, I really enjoyed cell biology, where I learned how the molecules in your body all work together. Then, I learned about viruses in college—and became fascinated with the way a virus can completely take over your cells.

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
I like that every day is different in science, and I like being on the edge of human knowledge. I think my favorite part, though, is brainstorming ideas with the other people in my lab about what might be happening on a molecular level, and then being able to go into the lab and set up an experiment to answer that question.

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
I usually have a few experiments that I have to set up, which we call bench work. I mostly work with human cells, virus, some purified proteins, and a lot of buffer solutions. I also spend time planning future experiments, which sometimes requires reading papers from other labs to see how they do their experiments. I read a lot just to figure out what people have discovered in the past about adenovirus, so I can make intelligent hypotheses. And sometimes I have lunch with a Nobel laureate. OK, that only happened once.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Ask questions. I’ve asked plenty of “stupid” ones, but you can’t lose that inquisitiveness. Don’t lose confidence, because all scientists feel dumb at some point, especially when an experiment just won’t work. And don’t be afraid to learn complicated technology, because that is probably what will be used to answer big questions in the future. 

image credit: shauna bennett
 

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