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Student Profile in Viral Evolution

Valerie Rodriguez Irizarry

Molecular Microbiology Graduate Program

Mentor: Julie Pfeiffer, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Biomedical Sciences
Undergraduate Institution: University of Puerto Rico, Ponce
Hometown: Ponce, Peñuelas, Puerto Rico

Awards/Fellowships: Graduate: Travel Award American Society of Virology 2022 Institutional Training Grant (T32) Molecular Microbiology; Undergraduate: Outstanding Presentation Award - Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), Young Investigator Award - Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (PR-LSAMP) 

Valerie Rodriguez Irizarry

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

I was first intrigued by learning about science early during my education years. During my time in college, I was encouraged to volunteer in a research laboratory. This was the first time I had a hands-on experience in a real scientific laboratory setting and it was fascinating and different from what I was used to learning from books. I found myself enjoying the process of asking questions, designing experiments, and generating my own data. Through college, I was exposed to different scientific events and research projects that led me to decide to continue pursuing my studies in biomedical science and ultimately apply to graduate school.

Please describe your research.

The goal of my research in the Pfeiffer Lab is to understand how RNA viruses evolve in the face of different selective pressures. Currently, I am working on selecting a mutant of Murine Norovirus with an increased replication speed in cultured cells and studying the mechanism conferred by the mutation discovered. The results of this work may provide insight about how certain environments shape viral populations and lead to the emergence of variants. In addition, this project can elucidate new aspects of virology involved in viral replication.

Why did you choose UT Southwestern?

One of the reasons I chose UT Southwestern was because the graduate school structure is organized in a way that allows for more time in the lab doing research rather than being in a classroom or having the commitment of being a teaching assistant. Also, as a Hispanic woman in the biomedical field, it was important for me to find an environment that not only provides training to become an independent scientist but one where I feel represented with the scientific community. At UT Southwestern, I have found the welcoming community of Hispanic scientists that I was looking for.

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

Our program provides a collaborative and supportive environment where you constantly receive feedback on your research. I have found this helpful for my training and crucial to becoming an independent scientist. The Molecular Microbiology program at UT Southwestern also offers courses (journal clubs, work-in-progress, etc) that contributes to the development of outstanding intellectual and technical tools which help students to succeed in the future as a scientist.

Valerie Rodriguez Irizarry