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Chemistry photo diary: Naneki Collins-McCallum
Chemistry photo diary: Naneki Collins-McCallum

Full Name: 

Naneki Collins-McCallum


University of California, San Deigo

What do you do?: 

I am currently an incoming, first year PhD student in the chemistry and biochemistry program at UCSD. The PhD program involves teaching undergraduates and taking classes, but mainly it involves research, and usually takes 5-6 years to complete.

What is a typical day like?: 

School hasn’t started yet, but I began a summer rotation at the beginning of July so I’m in the lab every day. I think it’s a good idea to spend a few months getting acquainted before beginning classes, rotations, and teaching in the fall. I usually start around 9 am and plan out my experiments/reactions for the day, although sometimes they are planned out weeks in advance. Right now I’m making nanoparticles from block copolymers for cancer drug delivery and it involves several steps. I synthesize various peptides and platinum drugs which I incorporate into polymers, and then I make them into various particles. The whole process can take up to a month, and of course this is if everything goes perfectly and all the conditions are right. I then test the particles in cancer cells to see if they performing properly. I have to keep an eye on my cell lines and attend to them a few times a week while I’m not performing experiments. We have a separate lab just for biological material, so I spend some time working there in addition to my regular lab. There can be quite a bit of down time when waiting for instruments and reactions, so reading journal articles, making spreadsheets, designing experiments, and researching on the internet is a big part of my day. I also spend a significant amount of time collecting and analyzing data I gather from HPLC, NMR, DLS, FACS, and other instruments in order to purify and characterize the different things that I make. Overall my day is pretty busy but it’s also rather flexible and I make my own hours. Unlike a traditional job, I can arrive, eat lunch, and go home whenever I want, but I do work about 10-12 hours per day, 5-6 days per week. Grad school so far is challenging but rewarding, and on a daily basis it is always filled with something new and unexpected.

What was your path to get to where you are today?: 

I traveled a rather strange path, but it led me to a good place. I attended community college and transferred to a four year school where I earned a B.A. in psychology. After an internship at the local psychiatric hospital, I knew I wasn’t completely happy with my career choice but I thought that medicine (not the psychiatric kind) might be more suited to my personality. I went back to school to take pre-med courses at Portland State University (PSU) as a post-baccalaureate student, and this is where I discovered a love for chemistry and decided to pursue it as a career. I was lucky to have some amazing experiences at PSU that cemented my decision to pursue chemistry and really prepared me for a future in science. I learned valuable lessons, not only in my classes but also in the lab as an undergraduate researcher, as part of the chemistry club, as a tutor and lab teaching assistant, and by completing a senior thesis. After earning my B.S. in chemistry/biochemistry, I applied to graduate school and accepted a position at UCSD.

What makes you excited to go to work every day?: 

I love that I can go into the lab and create something that is completely new to the world. I love that moment when after weeks or months of trying to get something to work, it’s finally successful and the research can be propelled forward. I love how after spending several labor intensive hours of analyzing my data, I have a beautiful, visual representation of what is going on in my system of interest and I feel proud of what I have created. I love working with chemicals every day and knowing that I can manipulate what nature has created. I also love the idea of really making an impact on the world and hopefully making it just a little better every day I’m in the lab. I love knowing that the work that I do benefits the company at multiple levels.

What is next on your career path?: 

After completing my PhD, I would like to work in the cosmetics or flavor/fragrance industry as a research scientist, and eventually start my own company.


B.S. Biochemistry