Meet Biophysical Sciences student, Margo MacDonald

December 18, 2020

Margo MacDonald was born and raised in Granville, Ohio. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and double majored in physics and biophysics. This is her third year pursuing a PhD in the Graduate Program in Biophysical Sciences. We interviewed her via email about her experiences at UChicago.

Why did you choose the University of Chicago?

I chose the University of Chicago because of the collaborative environment and the flexibility that the Graduate Program in Biophysical Sciences offered me through the program’s dual-mentorship model. My research interests are pretty broad, so being able to work with experts from two different fields was really appealing to me. I also really love the city of Chicago.

What do you study?

I study neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) and the role they play in metastasis. NETs are webs of DNA released by neutrophils to trap and kill pathogens, but they also form in response to inflammation in cancer and are associated with the spread of tumors across the body. We believe they do this by remodeling the biophysical properties of their microenvironment—altering stiffness, porosity, and so on—in order to suppress anti-tumor immune response and create an environment in which tumor cells can thrive. Lately, I have been studying the role they play in COVID-19.

What is something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago?

I’m proud of my involvement with Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) at UChicago, particularly recruiting at SACNAS the past two years and helping foster a strong sense of community for LGBTQ+ students on campus as one of GRIT’s LGBTQ+ team leads. This year we had the founder of 500 Queer Scientists speak at our annual National Coming Out Day Seminar!

What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?

I love cooking & making cocktails!

What are your plans post-UChicago?

I’m pretty sure I want to go into academia and run my own lab someday, but I haven’t ruled out going into industry. In the short-term, I will most likely pursue a postdoc after graduating and then decide!

What support have you received at the UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?

In terms of my research, the Graduate Program in Biophysical Sciences has provided me with valuable support throughout my first years of grad school. From student advising sessions to practice qualifying exams, the program (and the students in it) really make an effort to have the transition from coursework to research be as smooth as possible. In addition, I have found a lot of support in events organized by GRIT. While UChicago has a long way to go in terms of supporting students from marginalized backgrounds, it is heartening to know that there is a community of people here that is dedicated to doing the work to make academia a more welcoming and supportive place.

If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?

UChicago is somewhere I’ve found to be genuinely collaborative. Professors here are not only open to starting new collaborations but are excited about it. Neither of my PIs had worked together before I joined their labs, but they were both happy to start a new research direction with me. UChicago also has a strong sense of community. I’ve really enjoyed many of the academic and social events on campus in my time here. And again, while there is still a lot of room for improvement, there are a lot of people here who care about ensuring that this community is inclusive and supportive.

How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?

As a queer student who did not have any queer role models in STEM during undergrad, I understand how isolating it can be when your identity is not represented where you’re working and learning, and how important it is to create an environment where students’ identities are not only accepted but celebrated.

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