PhD Candidate in the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences
Ariel Dotts is a PhD candidate in the Driskill Graduate Program (DGP) in Life Sciences. She received her bachelor of science in biology at Spelman College and her master of science in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Michigan. Her research investigates the role of the progesterone receptor and estrogen receptor in preterm labor. Ariel was previously the president of the Alliance of Chicago Minority Students (ACMS) and is a member of The Graduate School’s Child and Family Resources Student Advisory Board. She is also a 2020 Northwestern University inductee to the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I investigate the role hormones play in inducing human labor so that we can develop better therapeutics to prevent preterm labor from occurring.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
A memorable twist for me was that I started my project from the very beginning. This was not a project that I picked up where someone left off. I didn't start with finishing someone else's experiments or analyzing someone's data. I started with consenting patients for our study at the very beginning before any science actually took place! I was doing a lot of comparison between myself and my cohort members. Finally, I realized that I have to walk my journey and not compare mine to anyone else's. We're all here doing amazing things and we'll see that finish line through in our own time.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
In 2018, the rate of preterm birth among African American women was 50% higher than the preterm birth rate among Caucasian women. Preterm birth accounts for 17% of infant related deaths in the United States and those babies that do survive experience developmental delays and other medical problems. As a black woman and a mother, I'm very passionate about this research and hope that my work will progress the field in the prevention of preterm birth around the world.
What is a mistake you have learned from in your career?
I've learned that you can't be shy or ashamed about not knowing how to do something or understanding something. If you don't understand or know, how can you do things correctly or wisely? I've made mistakes in my research techniques because I thought I could figure things out by myself and that set me back months when all I had to do was ask for help and I wouldn't have wasted so much time.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
The biggest impact of my work would be elucidating how human labor (birth) actually works. What is the actual mechanism? Right now, we know if you give certain drugs or hormones that can help push labor along more quickly, but the real question is why and how does that happen?
Northwestern is known for its extraordinary research and programs. I consider Northwestern on the same level as the Ivy League schools, and purple is my favorite color.
How do you unwind after a long day?
When it's nice outside, I love going to the park to play with my three-year-old daughter. Fun family time is the best way to wind down after a long day.
What books are on your bedside table?
I'm a murder mystery junky! Right now, I have Murder in Mesopotamia, a Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired to help others live happy and healthy lives.
How would your closest friends describe you?
"A woman who uplifts those around her through serving her community and often just being a listening ear"
"Organized, efficient, authentic, goal-oriented, genuine, honest, and collaborative"
"Ariel is the mom friend of the group. She's supportive yet challenging. Loving yet corrective."
What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
I originally wanted to be an archaeologist! I was so fascinated by history as a child. Archaeology was depicted as a great mix of investigating history, solving riddles, and adventure all-in-one in most movies. The Mummy was one of my favorite movies growing up.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
Work hard but make time to play hard, too. Don't give up but don't be so hard on yourself.
Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?
I learned that you can't control everything and you don't have to.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I think I'm just most proud that I have made it this far. Every day that passes by with me still working is an accomplishment to be proud of.
Published: April 20, 2020
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