The Microbial Early-Career Researchers Association (MicroERA) was established in 2019 by graduate students Kristen Farley, Katie Frye, Pooja Agashe, Ananya Sen, and postdoctoral researcher Jacqueline Morey from the Department of Microbiology with the help of Cari Vanderpool, Director of the Microbial Systems Initiative. MicroERA aids in carrying MSI’s educational mission through the sponsorship of networking and professional development opportunities for trainees and postdocs. MicroERA has continued to grow and develop since its inception. In 2021, MicroERA began the process of organizing as a registered student organization. We are proud to introduce the inaugural MicroERA Executive Board!
Dr. Kristen Farley is broadly interested in microbial physiology and loves figuring out how microbial cells function at the molecular level. She completed her undergraduate education in Microbiology & Cellular Biology at the University of Georgia before completing her graduate studies at Illinois in Bill Metcalf’s Lab (Department of Microbiology) in 2021. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Cari Vanderpool’s Lab (Department of Microbiology) examining how small RNAs regulate gene expression during transcription by modulating Rho-dependent transcription termination in bacteria. Kristen is a co-founder of MicroERA, which she and four other students from the Department of Microbiology began in 2019 with the goal of providing professional development and networking opportunities for early-career microbial sciences researchers across disciplines.
Dr. Yumi Iwadate is a postdoctoral fellow in the Slauch Lab in the Department of Microbiology. Iwadate’s research interests include host-microbe interactions, especially how intracellular pathogenic bacteria grow and survive within host cells when exposed to various stressors. She completed her graduate research at Tokyo Metropolitan University. She chose to become a board member of MicroERA because she wanted to meet others who study microbes from diverse fields. She has heard that great collaborations are often started by chance! Iwadate would like to increase opportunities for postdocs by increasing the number of postdocs joining MicroERA and by holding some workshops and events focusing mainly on postdocs. She also believes that postdocs are a bridge between a graduate student and early-career faculty so the increased number of postdoc participants in MicroERA will help graduate students visualize their future in academic fields. Outside of science, she likes playing tennis and was a captain of the women’s competitive tennis team in her university. Check out Dr. Iwadate's recent MSI spotlight.
Elizabeth Brandley is a second-year doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and serves as the President of MicroERA. Her goals for MicroERA are to continue to foster a sense of community within the organization by working with the executive board in a collaborative manner to invite and welcome new members and strengthen and enhance existing relationships among current members through various networking and professional development events. Brandley earned her MS in Health Promotion Management and a Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Education from American University. During that time, she was a graduate research assistant in the Nutritional Neuroscience Lab and conducted research examining the effects of breakfast on cognitive function in college students with and without ADHD. She later returned to this lab as a research coordinator for the “Glutamate Neuro-Excitotoxicity in Gulf War Illness” study. It was here that Brandley found her passion for nutritional psychiatry research as she witnessed veterans improve their anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms after changing their diet. She is now conducting research under Dr. Yuan-Xiang Pan and hopes to continue to examine the effects of dietary composition and nutrient status on epigenetic biomarkers and the microbiome in relation to psychiatric and neurological deficits and disorders. Brandley’s research goals are to contribute to prevention and treatment strategies throughout her career by examining underlying biological mechanisms that may inform personalized nutrition approaches as well as health promotion and policy efforts for mental health.
President of Undergraduate Affairs
Emma Prybylski is the Co-President of Undergraduate Affairs of MicroERA. She is currently a sophomore majoring in Animal Sciences with a minor in Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As an undergraduate, she has been able to work with various research labs in the Department of Animal Sciences. More specifically, she has assisted a graduate student amplify the Toll-like receptor 3 gene in white-tailed deer to study Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease. Prybylski is currently working on her research project under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Dilger in the Illinois Department of Animal Sciences that focuses on the effects of a prebiotic supplement, sialyllactose, on volatile fatty acid concentrations in piglets through analyses of ascending colon and rectal contents. She chose to become a board member of MicroERA because she wanted to be involved with a community that strongly advocates for promoting new research through various networking opportunities and other social activities.
Stewart Montgomery graduated from Auburn University with a BS in Animal Science/Pre-Vet and a BS in Nutrition Dietetics. Her previous nutritional biochemistry tutoring position along with research experiences examining leptin in Type I diabetic rats lead her to pursue a doctorate in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois. She joined the Donovan Lab in Fall 2021 focusing on pediatric and maternal nutrition. Her research entails examining food and nutrient intake in the STRONGKids2 birth cohort study and associations with child health outcomes. She is evaluating the dietary fiber and whole grain intake and correlations with existing data on growth, health outcomes and fecal microbiome composition. In her role as Vice President, Montgomery seeks to contribute to the MicroERA community by bringing people together through hosting networking, recruitment, and social events.
Lucy Chou-Zheng is a sixth-year graduate student in Dr. Hatoum-Aslan’s lab in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Illinois. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Queens College of the City University of New York. Her research interest is understanding how the bacterial immune system, CRISPR-Cas, works. She investigates how the Type III-A CRISPR-Cas system in Staphylococcus epidermidis RP62a, an opportunistic pathogen that confers antibiotic resistance, collaborates with ‘housekeeping’ cellular nucleases to ensure robust anti-phage, and anti-plasmid, immunity. What she likes about MicroERA is that she gets to meet and network with her peers from across campus. In addition, it creates ample opportunities for students from any background to organize and participate in events related to science.
Arden McMath completed a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Nutrition, with a concentration in Dietetics, degree at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 2018. She completed her Master of Science in Kinesiology and Health degree from Miami University in 2019. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies, her research focused on biomechanics of balance and knee injuries, athlete injury predisposition screening, exercise physiology, insulin resistance, and adipocytokines. Currently, McMath is pursuing her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences, under the advisement of Naiman Khan and Sharon Donovan. Her research focuses on how dietary patterns and fiber, as well as the gastrointestinal microbiome, contribute to the development of cognitive skills within the STRONGKids2 birth cohort study. McMath became a board member of MicroERA to foster fellowship opportunities for both herself and others that promote development of scientific and professional skills that support conception of rigorous research questions and effective research dissemination.
Kevin Cho is a junior majoring in animal sciences/pre-veterinary medicine. He is currently working as a laboratory technician at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in the Virology and Molecular section and as an undergraduate researcher at the College of Veterinary Medicine Laboratory of Pathobiology. He is interested in researching bacteriophages and vaccines that could be helpful for common diseases in marine animals. He spent this past summer as a foreign intern at the Seoul National University Laboratory of Aquatic Biomedicine. As an undergraduate student and member of MicroERA, Cho hopes to help other undergraduates find out how exciting the microbial field is.
Social Media Director
Lydia Okyere is a Ph.D. student in the Gaulke Lab in the Department of Pathobiology. Before coming to Illinois, she worked at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Animal Biology and Conservation Science at the University of Ghana in 2017. In 2021, she joined the Gaulke Lab where her research is focused on the impact of pesticide exposure on gut microbiome operation and adiposity. Her research seeks to quantify the impact of some widely used herbicides on gut microbiome composition and function using amplicon, shotgun metagenomic, and metabolomic analyses in the zebrafish model. Besides being a graduate student, Okyere creates and shares science comics on social media platforms to increase knowledge and appreciation of biological science. She has always been interested in the creative side of things. This together with an interest in microbial research, spurred Okyere to take on the role of social media Director of MicroERA. The role of social media director offers the opportunity to learn to apply creativity in enhancing the voice and reach of MicroERA while building team spirit and leadership skills.