Postgrad Research at the FDA: Gabby Walsh ’18
At Oberlin, Gabby Walsh ’18 double majored in biology and biochemistry. Now, she is a postbaccalaureate fellow at the Food and Drug Administration.
Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at Oberlin?
I took music lessons in the conservatory (clarinet and piano) and created the student organization “Multi-” at the Multicultural Resource Center for people who identify as multiracial/multiethnic/multicultural. I also tutored in the chemistry department and was a resident assistant for three years.
What do you do in your current role at the FDA?
I’m a postbaccalaureate fellow at the FDA, and I work in the Office of Vaccines Research and Review. I perform research on rubella-based recombinant vaccines for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) using rhesus macaques. Our vaccine is designed to work therapeutically to contain infection in babies born with HIV, which happens less so in the United States and more in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa where the HIV pandemic continues.
I work on anything from engineering vaccine constructs to making publication-ready figures. I routinely check our vaccine’s growth in cell culture and measure antibody levels in macaque serum to assess immune response.
What has your experience at the FDA been like so far?
My experience has been an amazing opportunity for education. I get to go to department talks all the time where the scientists and healthcare professionals responsible for the nation’s well-being discuss anything from an epidemiologist’s analysis of the current measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest to how one of our scientist’s work nearly eliminated all incidences of Meningitis A in the African “meningitis belt.” It really makes me feel like my efforts are part of something greater, and that I’m doing my share to better the landscape of global health.
Do you feel like any of your experiences or professors at Oberlin prepared you for your current role?
I absolutely believe that Oberlin prepared me for my current job. At Oberlin, I worked in research labs in the chemistry department from the winter term of my sophomore year up to my graduation date. I did organic chemistry synthesis with Albert Matlin, tested antibiotics on E. coli with Lisa Ryno, and worked on sensitive assays to detect ovarian cancer proteins with Rebecca Whelan.
I think having those experiences primed me to look for research positions after Oberlin, ones that could lead me to do more work in healthcare, especially. I also want to give a shout-out to the biology department. Classes such as Immunity and Pathogenesis, taught by Jordan Price, and the Cellular Basis of Human Disease, taught by Maureen Peters, are really relevant to my work at the FDA. I also want to give a shoutout, of course, to my advisor, Yolanda Cruz, for her constant encouragement.
In the future, Walsh plans to attend medical school. “After everything I’ve learned about biomedical science in the labs, I would love to practice medicine,” she says. “I want to serve patients in the clinic as best as I can. I feel that having an understanding of medicine from bench to bedside would really help me in my career as a physician.”