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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Alia Zander, Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences

Alia Zander

Where is your hometown?
I’m from Edwardsburg, Mich.

What is your educational background?
I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011 with a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering with a biochemical concentration. 

What are your research interests?
Because of my engineering background, I tend to be drawn to quantifiable, systematic approaches to research. More specifically, I am interested in signaling pathways because of their complexity, their widespread applications, and the many ways of modeling these pathways using experimental and computational methodologies.

What exciting projects are you working on?
In the lab of Jing Liu, PhD, lab we focus on inflammation and different diseases caused by prolonged inflammation in the lungs, such as acute lung injury. Currently, I am working on a project to further elucidate the mechanisms involved with a complex transcriptional regulatory circuit responsible for the activation and inhibition of cytokine production. We have been collaborating with the lab of my co-adviser, Joshua Leonard, PhD, in Evanston to create a computational model of our system. This model will enable us to make novel predictions about why the circuit was designed to function its particular manner.

What attracted you to the Driskill Graduate Program (DGP)?
The interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of DGP was what I found most appealing when researching graduate programs. Having the freedom to work in labs all across Northwestern and to take classes relevant to my particular interests was a huge advantage. Also, the beautiful location in a culturally diverse city and the proximity to my family made Northwestern an easy choice for me.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?
I was recently accepted into an National Science Foundation GK-12 fellowship program called Reach for the Stars. Through this program, graduate students are partnered with teachers from around the area. The goal is for graduate students to further develop as researchers by improving their communication and teaching skills. In turn, the students that the graduate fellows teach will benefit from lessons in computational thinking and computational modeling tools that will be incorporated into their existing curriculum. Additionally, graduate fellows will highlight the importance of the research strategy and help implement question-based teaching methods into the classroom.

During training for this program I was matched with a high school chemistry teacher. Together, we started planning lessons designed to expose students to computational thinking and to demonstrate that they already posses the skills necessary for computational modeling and only need to improve and practice to become experts. This experience has already been fun and educational and I cannot wait to begin working with high school students on a regular basis.

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?
The faculty at Feinberg is full of wonderful researchers and mentors. When I first started graduate school, each lab rotation brought a new challenge. I was fortunate to have patient and highly educated mentors that guided me through the learning process for each new project I was working on.

What do you do in your free time?
In my free time I love to be around my friends and family. I really enjoy playing tennis, baking, reading, and watching movies and sports.

What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation I plan to teach at a university and hopefully start my own research lab.