Meet the blogger: Samantha Avina

Hello iJOBS community,

My name is Samantha (Sam) Avina and I am currently a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Rutgers Newark School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Immunology PhD track. But I am also still a young adult trying to figure out my future career track and reach my own personal goals like many other members of our Rutgers student community. 

Being part of the iJOBS program blog has helped me to gain a better understanding of where I can see myself after I complete my PhD and helped me appreciate how far I’ve come. In 2017 I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Hawai’i Pacific University (HPU) where I started my first research project under the direction of Dr. David Horgen. There I worked on developing and optimizing chemical extraction assays to isolate the small organic compounds majusculamide Amalygamide A, and isomalygamide A, from indigenous Hawai’ian algae populations. These small compounds were isolated and submitted to the NIH small molecule repository for drug screening assays to identify potential novel drug target therapies. Under the guidance of Dr. Horgen, I was able to set a foundation for my research experience and find a great mentor who wanted to help me succeed in my pursuit for a research career.

 My time at HPU led me to the next step of my academic career when I was accepted into the Rutgers SGS summer undergraduate research program and ultimately inspired me to apply for the Rutgers PhD program. During that time, I was introduced to biomedical research and realized how much I enjoyed it, motivating me to switch research fields.

In 2018, I was accepted into the Rutgers Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation (I3) track in biomedical research PhD program and joined Dr. Amariliz Rivera’s lab for my doctoral work. Currently, my research focuses on characterizing the role of alveolar macrophages (AMs) in pulmonary fungal infection. Previously, AMs were not thought to play a critical role in pulmonary antifungal infection. However, with the development of new technologies and investigations, research is now demonstrating that parts of the innate immune system, like AMs, respond to different strains of fungal pathogens and is an ongoing active area of research. Moreso, we are investigating the role of the carbonic anhydrase 4 gene, a metalloenzyme, as a regulator of myeloid cell function and differentiation. As a PhD candidate, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with Imposter Syndrome and anxiety. Most PhD students I talk to are dealing with the same issues. I have found that becoming involved in positive community-oriented programs like the iJOBS program helps me overcome some of these setbacks. 

I enjoy writing and making connections with others. By sharing stories and experiences with others, I find the iJOBS blog to be therapeutic in a sense. Learning and discussing what we can do with our PhDs (other than academia) is an amazing experience that makes what sometimes feels like a lonely experience, an inclusive and supportive one! Most of us who are going through a PhD or post-doc experience are nervous for what comes next. I can happily say that what I have learned through the iJOBS program has made me excited about the future. As a first-generation college graduate and young scientist, I look forward to what comes next in my PhD and personal growth journey! Outside of the lab, I enjoy activities that include hiking, gardening, practicing yoga, being a cat mom, and volunteering at my local cat rescue organization, Here Kitty Kitty.  

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