Unique Scientist: Breann Abernathy

Time to meet Breann Abernathy (She/her)! Breann is a PhD candidate in nutritional biochemistry & molecular biology at the University of Minnesota in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a PhD candidate in nutritional biochemistry with a doctoral minor in molecular, cellular & developmental biology, and genetics (I know, a mouthful!). My research involves the evaluation of a novel dietary fiber as a prebiotic and the investigation of mechanisms of reduction of fatty liver disease and adiposity by changes in the gut microbiome (all due to said fiber). At this stage, all of my research involves animal models, specifically feisty rats eating lots of lard!

In addition to research, I am a graduate instructor for a 3000 level introduction to food science laboratory class – as if I wasn’t already cross-disciplinary enough!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I fell in love with science when I fell in love with Punnett squares in 10th grade biology! From that time forward, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in science, specifically genetics. My path got a tad squiggly, and I eventually found myself at the intersection of nutritional biochemistry and molecular biology/genetics. This interdisciplinary combination (throw on some computational biology and food science) is absolutely essential to my current research.

“[…] each discipline heavily influences the way that I think, and therefore the way that I science.”

Breann Abernathy

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
As previously noted, I’m a multidisciplinary scientist. While it seems like so much, each discipline heavily influences the way that I think, and therefore the way that I science. Understanding how to utilize nutritional intervention to manipulate disease etiology and investigate mechanisms on a molecular biology and genomics scale while using wet lab and computational techniques is my passion. Doing all of those things at once is unique and precisely what I love to do!

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I’m a creative type (as scientists, aren’t we all?). I love photography and fine arts, and have a passion for baking. The latter comes in handy when bribing students to study!

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
More community and less competition! While a little friendly competition can be a beneficial motivator, it can get out of hand and lead to people tearing each other down. Instead, focusing on building community where we help each other and are simply nice is my absolute dream! I think that this up & coming generation of scientists will make that happen – I mean, look at this community and the larger sci COMMunities on social media. It’s truly inspiring!

“[…] focusing on building community where we help each other and are simply nice is my absolute dream!”

Breann Abernathy

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I’ve pulled inspiration from many of mentors and textbook scientists (Thomas Hunt Morgan is a real hero). In particular, my late mentor and friend, Renee, always inspired me to be the best scientist and educator that I can be. I owe her the world, and will never stop trying to be the scientist and educator that she saw in me.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week, I had a small but mighty realization that I actually quite like data science. It came as a shock to me, but I’m proud of that realization as it makes me feel validated in my thoughts about my next steps after the PhD.


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