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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

December 2021

Prestigious research society recognizes NIEHS trainee

Kamiya Bridges, who studies reproductive and developmental biology at the institute, is making the most of her opportunities.

Kamiya Bridges “I've gained a lot of confidence at NIEHS, and I’m excited about what the future holds,” said Bridges. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

NIEHS postbaccalaureate fellow Kamiya Bridges has received a 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Travel Fellowship for Underrepresented Minority Trainees and Junior Faculty from the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR). The award comes with $1,200 to attend the SSR annual meeting Dec. 15-18 in St. Louis, Missouri.

The theme of the conference is “Reproductive Biology: Solutions for Adult Disease.” Bridges will present a poster, virtually and in person, on her work, which examines links between the protein RUNX1 and ovarian cancer.

She plans to attend a trainee-mentor luncheon as well as sessions on reproductive cancer and growing tissues and organs in vitro.

“This will be my first professional conference in person,” said Bridges, who works in the NIEHS Reproductive Developmental Biology Group, which is led by Humphrey Yao, Ph.D. “I'm really excited about meeting people in the field,” she added.

“We are all very proud of Kamiya,” said Yao.

A quick study who shows initiative

“I’m not surprised that she earned this award — she truly deserves it,” noted Barbara Nicol, Ph.D., who has mentored Bridges at NIEHS. “It will give her a tremendous first experience in a major international meeting.”

Bridges, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and attended Winston Salem State University, said coming to NIEHS in 2020 was a big transition.

Barbara Nicol, Ph.D. “Kamiya has a very kind, gentle, and generous personality that is appreciated among all lab members,” said Nicol. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

“Research opportunities at my university were very limited,” she noted. “I had to find a lab at another school to get some experience.”

Nicol said Bridges is a quick study.

“I’ve been impressed by her capacity to swiftly learn different bench techniques,” Nicol explained. “She has shown great initiative by proposing relevant new experiments for her research project.”

Her big break

Bridges said she feels fortunate for the support she has received at NIEHS.

“A lot of other students with more experience come from bigger institutions,” she noted. “The group I’m in at NIEHS really took a chance on me and has been very patient. I honestly could not have had better mentors.”

In addition to helping her learn basic bench techniques, Bridges said, Yao and Nicol also helped her with preparing talks and applications, including the SSR application, and learning to perform literature searches.

“All of that kind of work was new to me,” added Bridges.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn't able to be here in person for several months, so I knew I was going to need two years at the institute,” she said. “I really wanted grow and accomplish my goals. One of those is to publish.”

Humphrey Yao, Ph.D. Yao was instrumental in encouraging and helping Bridges to apply for the SSR travel award. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

Another is to apply to medical school next year.

“I want to be an OB-GYN,” noted Bridges.

To bolster her application with clinical experience, Yao introduced her to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fertility clinic.

“I've learned so much at the clinic, such as technologies that are available to assist patients who need help,” said Bridges.

Other achievements

Bridges received a $1,500 professional development award after she won Best Poster Presentation during the 19th Annual NIEHS Science Day event, held Nov. 19 (see related story in this issue).

In April, she earned an “outstanding” rating during the National Institutes of Health’s 2021 postbaccalaureate poster competition. Individuals are recognized for posters that score in the top 20 percent of all those presented. This year, 950 posters were shared, and Bridges was among 10 NIEHS winners.

She also won the NIEHS 2021 Big Picture, Small Talk challenge in April, during which contestants gave a three-minute talk explaining their research in plain terms.

“That was my first time actually winning an award,” she said. “It was really exciting.”

Bridges credits a culture at NIEHS that promotes promising students from backgrounds where opportunities are limited.

“The postbaccalaureate program I'm in often doesn't reach small schools,” she noted. “It’s really important for institutions like NIEHS to reach out and try to bring in students who will increase diversity.”

“Kamiya is wonderful to work with,” said Karina Rodriguez, Ph.D., a biologist in Yao's group. “I have enjoyed seeing her become more confident, ask great questions, and win awards.”

(John Yewell is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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