Lauryn Higginson – Molecular and Computational Biology

The USC Dornsife Ph.D. Academy supports Dornsife Ph.D. students to help them thrive during each year of their Ph.D. program. The Ph.D. Academy wants to highlight the amazing students that are a part of our unique community.

Our Summer Student Spotlight is on Lauryn Higginson, an incoming 2nd-year Ph.D. student in Molecular and Computational Biology. We had the chance to ask Lauryn more about her research and what she has been up to this summer so far.

What is your current scholarship/research focus?
My current research focuses on the process by which defects in essential post-transcriptional RNA processing factors give rise to tissue-specific human diseases. Specifically, I study how amino acid substitutions in the structural subunits of an evolutionarily-conserved processing factor, the RNA exosome, give rise to devastating neurological diseases. Given that this complex is structurally conserved across species, I utilize the Drosophila model to engineer flies containing the disease-linked genotypes with the goal of uncovering what molecular mechanisms are leading to these distinct phenotypes. Taken together, my research works to further understand the fundamental biology of the RNA exosome and the etiology of RNA exosome-linked disease.

Presenting at the RNA Society Meeting in Boulder, CO. 

Could you provide a brief description of what you have been up to this summer?
I started off this summer by presenting a poster on my project at the RNA Society Meeting in Boulder, CO. This was my first time attending a conference, and it was great being able to interact with fellow RNA biologists. In July, I was notified that a manuscript I had been working on with other graduate students and faculty titled, “How to Select a Graduate School Program for a PhD in Biomedical Science” was published. This important work outlines many critical components in the process of applying and selecting a graduate school program. The goal of this article was to provide prospective students, especially first-generation students, with the guidance and tools they need to navigate this exciting, yet challenging process. I also had the privilege of being a mentor for the USC Young Researchers Program. I worked with my mentee over a six-week period and during this time I was able to guide them through their first research experience as well as assist them with their college applications. Being a YRP mentor was such a great experience, and seeing my student get excited about the impactful science they were doing was priceless.

How has your experience in the Ph.D. Academy helped you as a Dornsife Ph.D. student? In what ways did the Ph.D. Academy impact or help your scholarship or research?
The Ph.D. Academy was one of the reasons I decided to attend USC. I thought it was great that Dornsife offered additional opportunities for professional development outside of research. This program has given me insightful information that helped me navigate my first year in graduate school. I think the most impactful event for me was learning about mindfulness and meditation. This series allowed me to learn how to practice mindfulness, which is a tool I now employ every day.

Being a mentor for the USC Young Researchers Program this Summer 2022