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Recent UW-Eau Claire graduate Anneka Johnson is embarking on a new academic endeavor as she prepares to start her Ph.D. program at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. This will only be the third time Johnson has been to the East Coast and this trip will mark the longest time from home in the Midwest.

Johnson earned a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UW-Eau Claire and served as a WiSys Ambassador during her undergraduate career. She reflects on her past research accomplishments as she looks forward to creating new ones in graduate school.

Can you tell us a little bit about the research you were involved with during your time at UW-Eau Claire?
I conducted research in Dr. Lyman Gingerich’s lab. We were looking for a biomarker in gene expression that would allow us to predict when a patient with Polycystic Kidney Disease would begin to experience symptoms and what their severity would be. To do this we used zebrafish and C. elegans. We have a zebrafish mutant that develops kidney cysts, we used gene expression profiles, whole genome sequencing, and PCR to determine genes that could be responsible for the cystic kidney phenotype. Orthologs of these genes were then examined in C. elegans to identify the specific affects of each gene on cilia. By identifying and characterizing genes that affect cilia form and function a test could be developed to screen patients for mutations in these genes and ultimately aid doctors in determining when a patient would begin experiencing symptoms and come up with a management plan. 

When you leave for Dartmouth, will this be your first time in the east? How are you preparing for your journey?
I traveled to the East Coast for a school trip in eighth grade and during my interview in February, however I have never been there for an extended period. Living out there will be a whole new experience for me. During my interview I got the sense that those involved in the PEMM program at Dartmouth are like a little family and that is a comforting thought as I prepare for my move. Hanover, New Hampshire is also a smaller community similar to the rural community I grew up in. As I prepare for my journey, I will be clinging to the parts that are familiar and embracing new experiences. I am treating this as an opportunity for a new adventure. 

Are there any specific research goals or projects you have in mind for your Ph.D. program?
I will do three different research rotations that will guide me towards choosing what my specific project will be working on, so I don’t have a specific project yet. My goal in going to graduate school is to use science to develop better ways to treat patients. This is one of the reasons I choose the PEMM program at Dartmouth because most of the faculty have this same translational medicine approach. Many of the labs are also in the hospital and allow researchers to work directly with patient samples to ultimately optimize treatment. 

Did you always know you wanted to be involved with research or did you discover this during your undergraduate experience?
I knew from a very young age I was interested in science and I like the idea of conducting research. However, while I was at UW-Eau Claire I realized that a career in research was a possibility and that going to graduate school was an important step towards getting there. 

When you weren’t in the lab, what were your favorite offerings of UW-Eau Claire to enjoy?
I really enjoyed walks through UW-Eau Claire’s beautiful Putnam park along with live music and poetry readings in the cabin. In addition to UW-Eau Claire events, I enjoyed attending events the City of Eau Claire put on including summer concert series, downtown Christmas celebration and Fourth of July fireworks. 

After your time in New Hampshire, do you see yourself coming back to Wisconsin to continue your work, or will only time tell?
After earning my Ph.D. in New Hampshire, I plan to return to live in the Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Midwest will always hold a special place in my heart. 

INNOVATIVE PEOPLE YOU SHOULD KNOW is an ongoing series highlighting the best and brightest students, faculty and staff from the UW System who do innovative research, have innovative business ideas or inspire others to be innovative.