Catching Up with Four Fellows

Submitted on March 15, 2021

By Elizabeth Labiner

The University Fellows program is bursting with graduate students innovating, creating, and making discoveries in an array of fields in the academy. Their work at the university is a vital contribution to the educational enterprise, and, on the individual level, a foundation for their career trajectory after graduation. 

Dr. Joe Dupris graduated with his PhD in Anthropology and Linguistics in 2020. His research focuses on sustaining tribal nations and indigenous polities through community-based language research. His dissertation approached this in two main ways: first, questioning the purpose of tying political and/or racial status to language, specifically Indigenous languages and second, offering a language research model for sustaining tribal sovereignty through community action. During his time in the graduate program, Dr. Dupris developed a broad network of support on and off campus with students, faculty, and community members who share his passion for Indigenous language:

Whether volunteering with the American Indian Language Development Institute or Indigenous Strategies, LLC, I had opportunities to engage ideas, peoples, and practices that greatly enhanced my graduate education, challenged my perspectives, and changed the ways I approach language. Community engagement and feedback, in combination with the breadth of classes offered across campus, have helped me to articulate a tribal approach to language research that is recognizable to both community members and institutional review boards.

After graduating, Dr. Dupris accepted a position here at UArizona as a Visiting Scholar for the Department of Linguistics. “It’s a great opportunity,” he says, “that enables me to support the Department’s work with Native American languages while further developing a language research program that sustains tribal sovereignty.” In addition to this post, Dr. Dupris is preparing for the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages. For this, he is in the initial stages of long-term strategic planning with the Klamath Tribes. Over the next few years, he hopes to build relations with maqlaqsyals (Klamath and Modoc languages) and numu yadua (Yahooskin-Northern Paiute languages) speakers located throughout Oregon, California, Nevada, and Oklahoma. It’s an exciting project with long-term potential for increasing support of tribal nations, community-based advocacy, research, and training.

Dr. Rhoda Nandai Muse earned her PhD in Statistics with a minor in Agricultural Resource Economics in 2019, during which she focused on developing novel statistical methods to quantify the effect of production risk and uncertainty on the decision to adopt modern corn seed variety among farmers in Kenya. Her study was motivated by inconsistent patterns of farmers in East Africa adopting improved corn varieties, especially after seasons in which poor rains or pest attacks impacted their crop. Surprisingly, she says, she actually never expected to pursue a PhD due to a negative experience with research projects as an undergraduate, but over time her desire to reach new levels of inquiry and understanding changed her mind and made her willing to take on doctoral research. 

Since graduating, Dr. Muse has worked as part of the Statistics and Mathematics team at the Critical Path Institute here in Tucson as a Quantitative Medicine Scientist. She knew she wanted a career that required PhD-level training in statistics, and that applied those skills toward something she felt was important, and eventually found an ad for her current job online at Dr. Muse enthuses, “I love that my work directly contributes to development of drugs, especially in areas of unmet medical need. I also enjoy that I get to apply the things that I learned in graduate school to the work and that I am challenged to grow my skills.” Looking forward, she says, she plans to continue to develop her technical skills in the drug development field, to contribute to scientific knowledge through publishing papers, and to continue improving her communication skills. 

Dr. Andrew Kunihiro earned his PhD in Nutritional Sciences, focusing on dietary bioactive compounds and cancer, in 2019. His dissertation investigated how bioactive compounds from the turmeric rhizome, called curcuminoids, prevent bone loss caused by breast cancer bone metastases; it also explored how these compounds are metabolized by the body and the effect this had on bioactivity. During his graduate studies, Dr. Kunihiro always knew that he wanted to go into the scientific research industry. Knowing that, he cast a wide net and searched online job boards such as LinkedIn for jobs related to cancer research, eventually finding the opening for the position he now holds: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Paul Lampe’s lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. 

Dr. Kunihiro has now shifted from his doctoral work to translational research with cancer diagnostics and imaging. He explains, “In translational research, we ‘translate’ the basic research and underlying scientific findings into applications for human use. In my case, I am taking prior knowledge on the role of autoimmunity in cancer and developing compounds for imaging tumors in the hopes of catching cancer earlier, when treatments can be most effective.”  His days can vary, but he primarily conducts hands-on experiments:

Lately, I have been searching for autoantibodies in blood samples from patients with cancers using a technique called ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Autoantibodies are antibodies against a patient's own body rather foreign agents, such as pathogens. Our eventual goal is to develop a blood test that can use these autoantibodies to detect cancer earlier.

Right now, Dr. Kunihiro says he’s gaining valuable training in cancer research, and he looks forward to many years to come in oncology research and discovery. 

Dr. Brittany Uhlorn graduated with her PhD in Cancer Biology in 2020. Her dissertation studied the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually-transmitted virus that also causes 5% of cancers worldwide. Her research focused on how HPV gets past the immune system, specifically cGAS/STING pathways that ought to trigger the body’s defenses, and how it eventually turns off this system. Understanding this, Dr. Uhlorn explains, could help us prevent, detect, and hopefully treat HPV and its accompanying diseases. All of her work in graduate school was originally with the aim to find a postdoctoral position and then transition to a tenure-track faculty post, but that changed for Dr. Uhlorn after her comprehensive exams: 

I had a pretty serious mental health crisis after my exams. I passed, but my performance was a really big disappointment to my committee, my advisor, and myself. That blow to my perfectionist self really opened the floodgates to mental health distress that I didn’t realize I’d been living with for years: perfectionism, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. I ended up developing an eating disorder as a control mechanism, but eventually recovered with therapy and self-work. During the therapy and healing process, I realized that I was living to please others, and only wanted that academic life because it was what others expected of me, and I didn’t want to disappoint the people who envisioned that path.

After this realization, she took time to explore herself and what makes her happy. She found a passion for teaching science to others through storytelling. This led her to research roles in communication, to conduct a number of informational interviews to learn about the field, and to take the course for a science communication graduate certificate. Now, she’s delighted to be the Coordinator of Marketing and Communications for the BIO5 Institute. In particular, she enjoys bringing science to life for the public, as well as conveying the story of the researchers themselves -- what she calls the secondary story to every scientific breakthrough. She exclaims, “It’s really the best of both worlds! I’m learning about cutting edge science, learning about the work being done and the people doing it, and then sharing that with the world as a coherent and interesting story.” 

As these and all other alumni of the University Fellows program forge ahead in their chosen careers, we’re excited to follow their progress and see the ways in which they continue to shape the world! 

For more stories on graduate-level alumni, check out the Alumni Career Spotlights page