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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Celeste Mallama, Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences

Celeste Mallama

Celeste Mallama, a fourth-year PhD/MPH student in the Driskill Graduate Training Program, studies the interaction between Legionella and the innate immune system in the laboratory of Nicholas Cianciotto, PhD, professor of Microbiology-Immunology. She also serves as one of the editors-in-chief for a new student-run journal called the Northwestern Public Health Review

Mallama received her undergraduate degree in biologicalsciences from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. After spending four years studying a variety of academic disciplines, she knew science was her strong point. With a little encouragement from a college professor, she decided to pursue a graduate degree. She chose to study at Northwestern because of the program’s unique focus on basic science research and the application of the research to issues in public health. 


What is your hometown?
I grew up in Bowie, Maryland.

What are your research interests?
I work in Dr. Cianciotto’s lab on Legionella pneumophila, a gram-negative bacterium and the etiologic agent of Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia. My project focuses on the type II secretion system of Legionella and how it interacts with the host’s innate immune system during infection. This secretion system exports proteins that allow the bacterium to successfully infect the host and dampen the host immune response. I’m interested in learning more about how this dampening occurs.  

What exciting projects are you working on?
I work on the board of an exciting new student-run journal called the Northwestern Public Health Review (NPHR). Twice annually we publish an academic journal of public health research, reflections, histories, and essays written by faculty and students from Northwestern and other public health institutions. We published our first edition in fall of 2013, and our second edition will be coming out in the spring of 2014. The NPHR has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to not only work on my science writing, but also to meet other students who are interested in public health and to interact and connect with faculty members and public health specialists at Northwestern and beyond who are working on fascinating and innovative public health projects. We also have a public health blog that we encourage students and faculty to contribute to.    

Why did you choose Northwestern? 
Being a part of Feinberg has afforded me a lot of amazing opportunities. One of my favorites was the opportunity to rotate through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for my MPH field experience. I shadowed the lab staff at the IDPH for a month through the different departments (newborn screening, water testing, STD screening, influenza tracking, etc.) and learned about the services provided by the state. It was the first time I had seen the concrete link between science and public health in action, and it was eye opening. I think most of us tend to take for granted the preventive public health measures that the state provides for us and it was a wonderful experience to take a look behind the scenes.  

What are your plans for after graduation? 
The great thing about graduate school is that you have time to figure out what interests you and cultivate those interests. I know that when I graduate, I’d like to pursue a position that incorporates my interest in public health, science, and science writing. There are a lot of amazing fellowship opportunities such as the epidemic intelligence service through the Centers for Disease Control where the fellows are at the forefront of public health surveillance and epidemiology, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science policy fellowship where fellows are informing decisions on science and technology policy and implementation. 

What do you do in your free time?
I love music, so in my free time I volunteer for a local independent radio station and I write for a Canadian music blog, reviewing albums and live shows. One of my lab mates got me interested in running, so during the summer I’m out on the lakefront running, and I finished my first marathon last November. I also set a goal to see all 50 states, so I travel whenever possible.