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Student Profile in Murine Norovirus

Melissa Budicini

Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program

Mentor: Julie Pfeiffer, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Biology
Undergraduate Institution: University of Notre Dame
Hometown: Ridgefield, CT

Awards/Fellowships: Graduate School: Molecular Microbiology T32 Training Grant, American Society of Virology Travel Award, S. Edward Sulkin Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Microbiology Research

Melissa Budicini

How did you become interested in science and/or research?

I first became passionate about science during my high school biology class. We had the opportunity to do some hands on labs which gave me my first taste of what lab science was like, however it was a while before I fully understood what a career in biology could look like. After my freshman year of college I was able to get a research internship at a biotechnology company. This experience not only exposed me to great scientific training but also connected me to mentors who had pursued careers as scientists. This helped me to gain an understanding of what a career in research could look like as well as opening my eyes to a wider range of questions that could be answered with biomedical research. When I returned to college the following year I pursued an on-campus research position and starting seriously considering graduate school and a career as a scientist.

Please describe your research.

My research is based on understanding how murine norovirus (MNV), a virus that infect the GI tract, interacts with the diverse population of bacteria that reside in these organs. It had been previously determined that the interaction of the virus with bacteria promotes the infection of the virus. I determined specific strains of bacteria and specific bacterial molecules that can bind and stabilize MNV which can contribute to the overall infectivity of the virus in the presence of bacteria. A better understanding of the factors that contribute to MNV infection may lead to better treatments for norovirus in the future.

Why did you choose UT Southwestern?

I chose to come to UTSW for graduate school because of the supportive and collaborative environment in the graduate school and UTSW as an institution. During my interview weekend it was amazing to see all of the relationships between students and between students and faculty. While I knew that UTSW had amazing research, I also knew that my success in graduate school would depend not only on the research opportunities that I was given, but also the people I surrounded myself with. I could tell right away that the environment at UTSW would support me through the highs and lows of graduate school. I was also drawn to the umbrella program here because I knew that it would allow me to connect with all of the students in my class across all departments before we split up into our individual programs.

What do you think makes the Molecular Microbiology Program one of the best?

I think the molecular microbiology program is one of the best because of the quality and diversity of the research being conducted. Because the department is very collaborative the diversity of research and expertise of individual labs often leads to collaborations and training across members of the department. Additionally, I think the faculty make the program great. All of them are experts in their fields, but they are willing to take the time to help mentor and support not only the students in their lab, but all of the students in the department. This type of support and training really makes it a great place to a student.

– Melissa Budicini