Unique Scientist: Sam Murphy

Time to meet Sam Murphy (She/her)! Sam is a virologist interested in how viruses modulate cellular immune responses in order to avoid detection and destruction. She is working towards her PhD at LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport and an active science communicator on social media.

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a PhD candidate studying rotavirus in the lab of Dr. Michelle Arnold at LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport. Our lab focuses on understanding how rotavirus nonstructural protein 1 (NSP1) inhibits the immune response during infection. Did you know nearly every cell in your body has a high tech alarm system that looks out for intruders? It is called the innate immune response. Rotavirus uses NSP1 to shut down these alarms during infection! Viruses usually encode proteins that do more than one thing; like Swiss army knives. My work is focused on determining if NSP1 shuts down the innate immune response using methods that do not involve degrading host proteins. I also share snapshots of my work, the scientific process and life on Instagram and Twitter using my project as a sounding board. I hope to promote scientific literacy, mental health awareness and scientific outreach while also showing that scientists are human beings with full lives and other interests outside of the lab.

What made you want to become a scientist?
Children are natural-born scientists and I was no exception. The first time I envisioned myself becoming a scientist happened when I learned about Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. I realized very quickly that I am terrified of heights so I never became an astronaut but, microbiology is equally cool and it doesn’t require me to leave the ground!

“I was raised by my dad and spent much of my life in poverty. To put this in perspective, my graduate student stipend more than doubled our household income and this is the first time in my adult life that I do not have to have more than one job.”

Sam Murphy

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
Aside from the challenges of being a woman in STEM, the biggest thing that isolates me from my peers is my background. I was raised by my dad and spent much of my life in poverty. To put this in perspective, my graduate student stipend more than doubled our household income and this is the first time in my adult life that I do not have to have more than one job. Peers in my age group are beginning to get married or start their families whereas, I have been married for over a decade and have twins! It really changes your perspective when you tackle major milestones like marriage, parenting, finding a place to live, college and now grad school with little guidance. It can get lonely when you don’t quite fit in where you came from and you don’t quite fit in where you are going.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
When I’m not in the lab or hanging out with my family, I am dedicating my time to scientific outreach and education in the Shreveport area! I am the VP of Public Relations for Science Matters-Shreveport so I run the Facebook page and head a committee dedicated to curating and creating scientific content that can be freely distributed to the public. When I’m not visiting local businesses or going to local events with my family, I’m enthusiastically headbanging in the pit at rock shows or singing rock songs at karaoke! Go hard or go home!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would change the perception that a career in science is reserved for people who fit a specific mold. I think this perception stems from a lack of diversity, gaps in communication between scientists and the public and a general distrust of scientists. I believe that everyone is born a scientist. If you are creative, excited about science and enjoy asking and answering questions, then you have the capacity to become a scientist if that is what you want to do. Elitism, racism, sexism, and ableism, whether they are intentional or not holds back the scientific community.

“It can get lonely when you don’t quite fit in where you came from and you don’t quite fit in where you are going.”

Sam Murphy

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I have been fortunate to have many mentors who have encouraged me along the way. I am also proud to say the majority of my mentors are strong, empowered women! I will focus on my 2 biggest influences, but I could write several pages! My MS mentor, Dr. Tara Williams-Hart, was my biggest inspiration because she is a successful mother and a patient, kind and nurturing educator. Additionally, my current PhD mentor, Dr. Michelle Arnold, inspires me every day with her grit, fearlessness and ability to lead by example.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I finished another figure for one of my first-author papers! Reaching the point where you can write a paper on your work and share it with the scientific community is incredible. I always get excited when I complete a new figure for a paper!


#WomenInSTEM, #MomsInSTEM, #FirstGen, #ScientistsWhoRock

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