Research Assistant, and UW Fellow for Academic Excellence

PhD in Pathobiology program

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Riley Eileen Zielinski, I'm 22 years old, and I'm an alumna of Ohio University. In my undergraduate education, I completed a senior thesis about host-pathogen interactions in MRSA, and I have continued to study how pathogens trick their hosts into being hospitable environments in my short time as a PhD. student. I'm originally from the Appalachian mountains, and I'm incredibly proud to be an Appalachian woman in the sciences. After graduating with my PhD., I hope to establish my own research lab and continue my career as a scientist and professor. In my free time, you can usually find me baking or embroidering for friends and family. I've briefly lived in Berlin, Germany, where I worked in a research lab within the hospital Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. 

Why did you decide to attend the UW for graduate school?

I chose UW for a litany of reasons, one of which is the amazing Global Health department and the Pathobiology program's focus on interdisciplinary thinking. As an anthropology minor in undergrad, I spent a lot of time thinking and writing about how humans interact with our pathogens, how disease has shaped human history, and how our modern culture is defined and influenced by the diseases we have co-evolved with. UW's Pathobiology program allowed me to focus my efforts on the microbiology research I hope to define my career by, while also continuing to keep the interdisciplinary nature of infectious diseases at the forefront of my education. 

What are your research interests?

Broadly, I'm interested in how pathogens interact with their hosts, especially how pathogens trick the host into being a better environment for them. We have been in an evolutionary arms race with our pathogens since the beginning of our species, and our little invaders have gotten remarkably good at creating their perfect homes in our body. If we can interrupt those mechanisms and make the human body a worse environment for the pathogen, we could theoretically learn to treat infections from the host side, to support antimicrobial therapies already in place. 

What are you enjoying most about your graduate program?

The intellectual freedom to ask questions, and the resources to answer those questions, have been my favorite parts of graduate school so far. My current rotation lab mentor is an amazing scientist who has let me take a lead in designing my project, and he is always so happy to hear about what I've been reading or new ideas for experiments. I know my experience isn't unique in this regard- the faculty in the UW Pathobiology program are some of the most remarkable people I've ever met.