SUSANNAH CALHOUN: I was born with a condition called fibular hemimelia, which means I was born without a fibula bone in my leg. Growing up as an amputee, I've always been aware of the differences between myself and others. These differences left me with a desire to overcome challenges and also open my path to becoming a scientist.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. My mom and my sister have been my biggest sources of support. In high school, my disability inspired me to conduct a study through the Intel Science Talent Search. I studied the differences in positive body image between congenital and non-congenital amputees. This was my first foray into scientific research, and I fell in love.
After graduating from college, I started working as a research tech at Weill Cornell Medicine. That experience helped me cement my desire to continue working in an academic research environment. I realized that getting a PhD could open more doors for my scientific career.
When I started graduate school at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, I knew right away that I wanted to work in the lab of Dr. Kirk Deitsch studying Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria. My research studied how the malaria parasite repairs its DNA and what proteins are essential to that process. I've been really lucky to have two great thesis mentors-- Doctor Kirk Deitsch and Doctor Laura Kirkman. Kirk and Laura have created such a supportive and collaborative research environment.
DR. KIRK DEITSCH: --infected red cell, so put the parasite in there. These guys are all sitting in here.
SUSANNAH CALHOUN: While pursuing my PhD, I was one of the leaders of the Tri-Institutional Minority Society, which works to mentor talented minority undergraduates in biomedical research. I believe that the best scientific research requires people of diverse backgrounds. I'm going to be working at Novartis in Cambridge studying oncology. The skills that I learned at Weill Cornell in parasitology will now translate to my research in cancer diagnostics. I'm proud to be a scientist changing the face of scientific research.
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For Susannah Calhoun, her differences are also her greatest strengths. As a congenital amputee, she was inspired to overcome the challenges she faced and pursue a future in science, an interest first sparked in high school and culminating in her PhD.