Working at a lab bench

Student Perspective: Katie Sharp

Katie Sharp

Lab: Dr. Jeff Axelrod

Why did you choose to come to graduate school at Stanford University? What attracted you to the Biosciences PhD Programs?

Obviously, Stanford has an excellent reputation for its research output, but, in addition, when I interviewed I felt like there was a strong sense of community and that the students were happy. As a student here, I can say that both of those things are true. The quality of the community ties not only make life pleasant, but they mean that it's easy to collaborate on projects and get expert technical advice when you need it.

Describe your research.

I study how cells in a developing epithelial tissue can align with their neighboring cells and the axis of the tissue to do things like grow structures in a particular direction. I use the power of fly genetics and cell biology techniques to examine the molecular mechanisms that control this highly conserved process, known as planar cell polarity.

Why did you choose to join your lab?

I knew I was going to join the lab about two weeks into my rotation. I found the reading I was doing fascinating and the work itself enjoyable, but I think two very important factors were the lab environment and my PI. My PI is very available—he is generally in his office with the door open. I feel like our meetings are highly productive, but he doesn't micromanage, which can be a hard balance to find. In terms of lab environment, our lab is mid-sized (8-10 people), so my PI's attention isn't pulled too many directions and we all know each other pretty well. People are often surprised that I'm happy in a lab that, typically, is a pretty silent place because I love to talk to people. But I'm very easily distracted, so, while my labmates are always happy to help each other or have a chat, having the default state be very calm and quiet helps me focus. I'm probably the loudest thing about my lab. In some labs, people are hyper-focused on their own work or there is so much activity and conversation going on that it can be very distracting. My lab strikes a balance that works for me.

What do you like about living in the Bay Area?

I love the food culture of the Bay Area. There are great farmers markets, producers of fancy treats, and restaurants all over the place. And, of course, the weather doesn't hurt. It's almost always a nice day for a bike ride or a run. That way you can work up a healthy appetite to eat all the good food! And at Stanford, I love the people. You are never far away from a good friend or an interesting conversation.

Do you have any advice to share with prospective students?

It's OK to not have a super clear idea of your interests yet. Your first year will be full of so many new ideas; something is bound to capture your imagination. But don't just wait for a topic to find you: Go to a wide variety of seminars and expose yourself to as many new ideas as you can. You'll find something you love.

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