One-on-One: Jessica Klein

Jessica Klein

Jessica is a graduate student in the lab of Dr Leigh Knodler in the Allen School.

PhD candidate Jessica Klein working in laboratory with petri dishes.
PhD candidate Jessica Klein working in her lab.

What area of research is covered by your PhD thesis?

Our lab is interested in how Salmonella causes disease on a molecular level.  I’m specifically interested in a molecular nanomachine, termed an injectisome, that Salmonella uses to cause infection.  Salmonella uses this needle-like protein complex to enter intestinal cells, and work from my thesis has uncovered several intracellular roles as well.

Why did you choose to join the IID graduate program at WSU?

I was interested in being part of a global health initiative that embraced molecular biology and the basic sciences. I saw this in the School for Global Animal Health, which employs a number of researchers devoted to solving very complex health problems with multidisciplinary efforts, many of whom are well-known in the field of microbial pathogenesis. I was really impressed by the science and friendly nature of all the researchers I met, and was hooked! The IID program is designed to be flexible, and allows your program of study to be driven by you and your mentor, not a strict set of coursework.  This offers a great opportunity to tailor your PhD to your academic and professional interests.

Where were you working/studying before your started your PhD?

While at college in the microbiology program at University of Washington, I worked at Seattle Children’s Research Institute as an undergraduate researcher in a lab studying MRSA and exploratory stages of vaccination.  After graduating, I took a 2-year appointment as a research associate in molecular toxicology at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in Richland, WA.  I was working as part of a large team of biologists, chemists, and physicists studying how engineered nanoparticles interact with and traffic through human cells, tissue, and organ systems.

How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

I’ve always loved art and spend a lot of my free time painting.  Though a small community, Pullman actually has a group of art-in-science enthusiasts that meet monthly to share their work.  It’s a great way to meet new people and explore your creative abilities. 

What advice would you give students about to embark on a graduate degree?

It may be one of the most challenging things you will ever do, but completely worth it.  The experience is really what you make of it, so take every opportunity you can to expand your knowledgebase and step outside your comfort zone to develop your scientific creativity, communication and problem-solving skills.

What is the next step in your career plan?

I’ll be taking a position as a postdoctoral scholar to continue training as an independent scientist. I really enjoy learning from other disciplines. Some of the most innovative ideas come at the intersection of vastly different fields, and continuing training in pathogenesis will put me in a good position to be a lead microbiologist on an interdisciplinary team developing solutions for diagnostic and treatment challenges.  

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