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Spotlight on Anne d’Aquino: PhD Candidate in the Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences (IBiS) Graduate Program

Created: November 26, 2018

Anne d’Aquino received a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Western Washington University and is currently a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences (IBiS) Graduate Program. Under the advisement of Professor Michael Jewett, her thesis work focuses on understanding and engineering the ribosome’s active site. Anne was recently named a Presidential Fellow, the most prestigious fellowship awarded to graduate students by Northwestern University. 

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?  
I study the ribosome, the protein synthesis machine of the cell. The ribosome can be thought of as the chef of the cell. Just as a chef reads a recipe and combines ingredients to make a dish, the ribosome reads cellular instructions and connects building block molecules (amino acids) to construct proteins. Much like the final dish a chef produces, the ribosomes produce proteins –  the molecules that maintain the health of the cell. My research aims to understand how changes or mutations to the ribosome impacts its function and how these mutations can be leveraged to design and build specialized ribosomes.  

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?  
I admire some of my closest friends, mentors, and my twin sister, Andrea – all of whom work tirelessly to understand and better the world and devote countless hours to training, mentoring and inspiring the next generation of scientists. I have watched these fellow graduate students juggle their research, mentorship, outreach organizations, classes, teaching, and volunteering. Through it all, they are still kind, generous, and humble human beings. They inspire me to work harder, think critically, and continuously improve our fields of study and our communities.  

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?  
Understanding such a fundamental and complex molecular machine is extremely rewarding and satisfying – and to have techniques that allow us to understand its function down to the basic building blocks still blows me away!  

Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?  
Things never go quite as planned in science, but that isn't always a bad thing! I have learned to always take a step back, take a second look, and then reconsider. It is important to be resourceful and creative when plans go awry, and to make the most of the new situation. It might end up being a turn for the better!  

How do you unwind after a long day?  
After a long day, I really like lifting weights, running, playing volleyball, reading, cooking, and watching any sort of comedy. I also have very supportive network of family and friends who I talk to constantly. I find it very therapeutic and refreshing to tell them about my day and experiences, and to listen to theirs.  

How would your closest friends describe you?  
I think my closest friends would describe me as funny/punny, creative, organized, hardworking, curious, talkative, and determined. I usually come up with a punny science Halloween costume, and for the holidays, I also make punny science-themed cards.