Kristal Gant

1st Year PhD Student
Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

About Me

I thought I would be an obstetrician after watching episodes of the Cosby show. I’m still a doctor, just not the kind that works with babies! I graduated from Elizabeth City State University with a Bachelors degree in Biology.

How was your experience with STEM classes and teachers in middle and high school?

I LOVED science in middle and high school. While other students dreaded dissections and experimentation, I always looked forward to those classes.

After grad school, what’s next?

I will apply for a fellowship to work at the NIH for a year and hopefully use that as a stepping-stone into government.

What do you do to unwind?

I either binge-watch my favorite shows on Netflix or sleep!

My Research

Tell us about your doctoral research

Ovarian cancer is a gynecologic cancer that is usually not diagnosed until the latter stages of its pathogenesis. This makes it the deadliest gynecologic cancer and very difficult to treat. Diagnostic biomarkers are needed to make early diagnoses and distinguish its symptoms from other cancer types and non-cancerous ailments. My overall research objective is to do a full analysis on ovarian biopsy tissue samples utilizing ovarian cell lines, mouse studies and other methods to recapitulate the collagen remodeling/extracellular matrix rearrangement associated with oncologic pathogenesis. I am also seeking to discover and observe any genetic and molecular markers/biomarkers expression changes that occur during ovarian cancer progression. I hope to characterize what occurs early on in ovarian cancer development to make early diagnosis possible, make treatment more effective and increase survival rates.

What motivated you to pursue this line of research?

This line of research challenges me and forces me to truly dive into the science behind it. I also like the fact that what I do in the lab is translational and will contribute to both scientific knowledge and equip doctors with key markers to look for in the tests they run. Knowing that what I do in the lab will help someone’s mother, sister, aunt or friend survive is all the motivation I need.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

It is a completely new field for me! I’m learning as much as I can, reading as much as I can and just trying to understand the information that already exists about ovarian cancer.

What is the most challenging part of research for you?

I would say the techniques and analyses are the most challenging aspects. Going into a new line of research is always exciting yet intimidating since most students have only learned theory, not application. But I love a good challenge!

My Grad School Experience

Why did you choose to go to Grad School?

I chose to go to grad school to become fully trained and prepared to meet my career goal which is to use my research to implement government policies of the public and private health sectors that affect men and women of reproductive age. I’m also interested in environmental and reproductive toxicology, maternal and fetal health, translational genetics and reproductive organ development and functioning. Having my PhD will give me the freedom to explore these areas. I want my research to influence the community and I want to be a leading researcher and scientist in my field. I also want to mentor young girls to instill in them that they can do anything they put their minds to.

Do you ever feel discouraged? How do you get around that?

Yes, I have felt discouraged more times than I can count. I’ve thought about quitting so many times and I’ve wondered if I was competent enough. I look around me at my friends and old classmates as they get married and have kids and I’m STILL in school. However, there is something in me that won’t quit—I can’t. I have been through so much, too much, to leave my dream unfulfilled. I have survived Hurricane Katrina, constant displacement, abuse (physical, mental and emotional), homeless shelters and the uncertainties of direction and purpose. In order to overcome discouragement, I remember that I do indeed have a purpose, a calling greater than I can imagine. I also remember that I’m on this journey for the future generations, friends who are inspired by me and family members that look up to me. When I do feel discouraged, I cry, I fuss, I call my mother or my best friends to vent and then I cry all over again. After the tears have dried, I drop to my knees and I pray. I ask for strength, guidance and perseverance to finish the race.

Who are some of your biggest cheerleaders?

My biggest cheerleaders include: my mother, my best friends, my mentors and advisors from undergrad. My graduate program advisors and mentors are also on the squad.

What do you want to say to upcoming MelaninGenius?

KEEP GOING. You got this.

What has been the most useful life advice you have received?

What is for you will always be for you. No person or thing can block what is for you.

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