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Meet Lauren Rodriguez!

Meet Lauren Rodriguez, biosafety specialist and music lover!

Hi, I'm Lauren Rodriguez!

What kind of work do you do?

I am a microbiologist, and I research disease-causing organisms that can easily spread through the air. I specialize in working with these dangerous microbes in a way that keeps them contained, in a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) laboratory. Currently, I'm a BSL3 Specialist at UCSF.
Biosafety Level 3 is the second-highest level. Examples of microbes that fall into this category are ones that cause tuberculosis, valley fever, and COVID-19.
I love my job because I get to work with scientists in other fields such as immunology and virology, and we’re constantly learning from each other. We all have the same goal of understanding how these microbes cause disease, and I am glad I can contribute my expertise of working in the high-containment environment.

Right now, it’s summer 2020. What kind of work are you doing on COVID-19 right now? How does it feel to be working on infectious disease research during a pandemic?

With so little known about SARS-CoV-2, I am currently working with virologists on getting the basic experiments working. These are things like propagating the virus safely in the lab and successfully infecting cells in a petri dish.
Usually when I start working with a new pathogen, I have time to read the published literature and understand what people have previously tried. In this situation, since we are all trying everything for the first time, we all really have to work together and quickly share what we’ve learned.
When I started my career in infectious disease research I never thought I would be working on something like this, but I am glad that I can apply my training and contribute to something that is impacting the whole world right now.

How did you get interested in science, and what did you study?

My interest in science started when I was in high school. I had a very supportive biology teacher who encouraged me to follow a scientific career path. For college, I attended UC Santa Cruz and participated in research where I collected soil samples from the redwood forest and isolated bacteriophages from the soil. I learned how to sequence and annotate their genomes, which made me want to explore what a career in research could be like.
For two summers in college, I was in a program where I did research at another university. I went to Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and worked on understanding antibiotic resistance in the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. That experience was where I knew that I wanted to study highly infectious pathogens. That led me to graduate school where I went to UCSF for my Ph.D. and worked on a fungal pathogen called Histoplasma capsulatum. This fungus produces spores which are aerosolized and infect a host once they are inhaled. I worked in a BSL3 throughout my entire graduate career and it’s in that environment where I really thrived.

What do you do in your free time?

I love going to concerts in my free time. I can enjoy any kind of live music but my favorites are punk and metal. Living in the Bay Area is ideal to catch large shows as well as great local bands. I also play the drums so I make sure to set aside time to practice even when my schedule is super busy.
When I have time off of work, I love to travel. My friends are very adventurous so I am fortunate to have a group of people that will join me on trips all over the world. Local adventures are also a regular occurrence for me. I am obsessed with baked goods and will absolutely travel if I hear about a good bakery.

What's your one piece of advice for people interested in biology?

I have been told that I don’t look like a scientist because of my piercings and tattoos. I used to take it very personally but now I use it as motivation to shake up the biology field. Anyone interested in biology that may not feel like they belong, I want them to know that they do belong. Science benefits from having different kinds of personalities and perspectives contributing to it so don’t be afraid to go for it.

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