The Bioinformatics CRO Podcast

Episode 38 with Stacy Horner

Stacy Horner, associate professor of molecular genetic and microbiology at Duke University Medical School, compares hepatitis C and dengue virus to SARS-CoV-2 and suggests policy changes to make academia more inclusive.

On The Bioinformatics CRO Podcast, we sit down with scientists to discuss interesting topics across biomedical research and to explore what made them who they are today.

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Stacy is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and Medicine, and also the Co-Director of the Duke Center for RNA Biology. Her lab studies the molecular mechanisms that regulate flavivirus-host interactions.

Transcript of Episode 38: Stacy Horner

Grace: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Bioinformatics CRO podcast. My name is Grace Ratley, and today I’m joined by Dr. Stacy Horner. Stacy is co-director for the Duke University School of Medicine, Center for RNA Biology, as well as associate professor. Welcome, Stacy.

Stacy: [00:00:15] Thank you for having me, Grace.

Grace [00:00:16] I’m excited to have you on the podcast. So can you tell us a little bit about your research on flaviviruses?

Stacy: [00:00:22] Yeah. So my lab studies virus-host interactions. And so what that means is that we’re really interested in how viruses infect cells, how cells sense these viral infections, and then how the cells in our body fight back to viruses and then how viruses try to get around that immune response. And so, as you mentioned, we do this in the context of viruses in the flaviviridae family. So that includes viruses like hepatitis C virus, dengue virus, Zika virus, West Nile virus, all viruses that many of you may have heard of before.

[00:00:53] And I mentioned that these are positive strand RNA viruses. So they’re very similar in some respects to SARS coronavirus too, which is the virus that’s causing the current COVID-19 outbreak, which also has a positive-sense RNA genome. And so fundamentally, what we’re learning and how we study how these flaviviridae viruses interact with the cells in our body, our principles that can actually go beyond just these viruses, because many RNA viruses are viruses that generally interact with cells in the same way.

Grace: [00:01:23] Can you tell us a little bit about hepatitis C in particular? So hepatitis C does have an effective treatment. So why is it important for us to continue studying this virus?

Stacy: [00:01:35] Yeah. So hepatitis C virus, as you know, we have great direct acting antivirals to this virus that can actually cure the virus. So unlike HIV, which when you’re infected, it goes into kind of like a latent state and heads out of your body, we can eliminate HCV from people. So that’s very exciting. And in fact, the scientists who discovered aspects of hepatitis C virus infection and how to cure it, actually just won the Nobel prize last year. And so the reason why it’s important to study this virus, even though it’s already cured, are two big reasons.

[00:02:09] The first is that there’s actually no vaccine, so we can’t prevent infection. And one of the largest sources of new HCV infections every year is through IV drug users. And in fact, at least a year or two ago, the number of new infections per day was equivalent to the number of people being cured from the virus. And so the only way to actually eliminate the virus is to prevent infection. And we really need a vaccine for that. And so while my lab isn’t studying the immune responses that would lead to a functional vaccine, there are many labs that are doing this. And I think having a vaccine to prevent infection by HIV is something that we really need.

[00:02:46] So that’s one reason why people in general should still study it. But from my lab, we like to study this virus because it interacts with our host cells in a lot of interesting ways. And by understanding how this virus interacts with our host cells or causes infection, we could actually learn general principles about how viruses can cause disease. And so we can use this virus as a model virus to learn how these things happen and then compare and contrast to other viruses to see if it’s similar or different.

Grace: [00:03:15] And you mentioned that some of the RNA biology is similar in both flaviviruses as well as SARS-CoV2. Can you talk a little bit about that and what you’ve found so far?

Stacy: [00:03:28] Yeah. So the most important thing that’s similar is that their genomes are what we call a positive sense polarity. And so that means when the virus infects a cell, the viral capsid un-coats, the viral RNA gets into the cell and immediately that RNA is translated to make the viral proteins for both viruses, the flaviviridae and for coronaviruses in general. The first thing that needs to happen is that the viral RNA dependent RNA polymerase gets made and this viral protein can then replicate the viral RNA to make more copies. Actually, in the viral RNA dependent RNA polymerase is a big drug target for hepatitis C virus at some of our drugs that are in the clinic are used to that.

[00:04:10] And you could imagine that for coronaviruses it would be a similar type of idea. One major difference between the two viruses and this is why actually there isn’t a drug that targets the coronavirus, RNA dependent RNA polymerases is that the coronavirus because its genome is very large. So it’s RNA genome is 30 kilobases long, whereas viruses in the flaviviridae family are around 10 kilobases long. So it’s three times bigger. And so because of that, when the viral polymerase copies the genome, it makes many errors, right. And the longer genome, the more areas that you can make. And so coronaviruses actually encode a proofreading enzyme that can fix mistakes.

[00:04:52] Many times in virology, we want to target the polymerase, but actually in coronaviruses it could maybe fix mistakes that happen because they also include what we call exonuclease that can help to repair the genome. So I think the exonuclease might be a good molecule to target in coronaviruses. And in fact, a new paper came out, I think today sharing the crystal structure of that protein of the virus. So that’s very exciting for people who study coronaviruses.

Grace: [00:05:20] So how do you think the pandemic has changed the way that people think about the field of virology as a whole?

Stacy: [00:05:29] Right. So I think it depends on who you ask, as we all know. So in my family, I’m very popular right now because a lot of my family has a lot of questions like probably many of us do about: how the virus works, how do you get it, what’s safe, what’s not. And the fun part of being a virologist is that I actually read the scientific papers. And so I know the data in the papers and what seems right and what’s not. And one of the interesting things in the last year is that the media has been covering the virus a lot and sometimes they aren’t able to quite capture the nuance of science, right.

[00:06:08] And so sometimes I look at a paper and I come to a conclusion and then I read a news article, and they come through a different conclusion. So that’s something that’s been pretty interesting. And for my family, as we’re trying to all make decisions to keep us safe, I’ve actually relayed some of like, well, I know that’s what the article said, but this is kind of what I think based on the data in this paper. And so if we go to a broad level now, a lot of people are, what we call armchair virologists, which is kind of exciting to have new people from other fields interested in how viruses work.

[00:06:40] We’ve made a lot of progress in only about a year, which is really remarkable, right. We didn’t even know the virus existed and now we have a vaccine that’s in like at least half the people over 18 in the United States, right. So I think that’s very exciting. One of the hard things, one of the challenges has been that many people think they know everything about virology and they come in from a different field. And there’s actually a pretty well established coronavirus literature. And so I know some of my colleagues who are coronavirologists have been a little bit irritated if people don’t know the literature.

[00:07:13] So that’s something like the scientific sphere. But if we go to a global sphere, a lot of people say, well, I am really good at predicting these things. I’m really good at epidemiology. I am really smart generally. And so I want to tell you how you can cure this virus. I think we can all appreciate everyone’s efforts to come together on this. Sometimes we wish that people would spend a little bit more time preparing and actually going to the experts who really do know what’s happening, the advantage of people from outside as we get more creative solutions, the disadvantage is they have to get up to speed. And as someone who’s been studying viruses for 20 years, that’s a lot of speed to catch up to, right.

Grace: [00:07:51] Yes, certainly. We had a person on the podcast recently who was using CRISPR-based technologies for COVID diagnostics, which was a really exciting new development. They’ve been using it to try and diagnose other conditions. And when the pandemic started, they quickly jumped in and helped out there. Can you think of some of the more exciting technological advances that have come as a result of people entering the field of virology from other fields?

Stacy: [00:08:20] Yeah. So I think, one, that is pretty exciting, and I don’t actually know the people who did the work, but I’m sure you can find the publication for the listeners, is novel methods to detect coronavirus infection. So currently you have to do like a PCR test, which takes a while and is expensive. You could do an antigen test which is much cheaper. But I read a report of a study that can take the air that people are breathing and then do mass spec on the air–I think it’s mass spectrometry–to identify the exact molecular weights of the things that are in that air and they could actually detect the virus.

[00:08:58] This is super cheap. You could put it in like train stations. I thought that was really cool. So that’s like some of the really cool technology that you would have expected. And I think a lot of this comes from, you know, maybe people in the engineering world. And then, you know the other big thing for my field that I think is very exciting is the fact that the COVID vaccine is the first mRNA based vaccine that has gone into people and been approved for this kind of global use as emergency authorized, right. So while a lot of the technology for mRNA vaccines has been around for a really long time, it wasn’t until right now that we had to make a vaccine really fast, what are we going to do?

[00:09:39] They kind of had done all the research over the years to be ready right for this moment. And the fact that it works so well and so quickly is very exciting, because that means that then we can use this technology for future pandemics, for a lot of other diseases or viral infections. I would say from my point of view, the fact that you could go from not knowing a virus to get an FDA approved vaccine in people in a year… I actually did not think it was possible, and it actually was, which is really exciting.

Grace: [00:10:07] Yeah, it is. It’s so exciting. So one of the things that I’ve always wondered about is why did it take us like a pandemic to get these things to market? Like what do you think is the difference?

Stacy: [00:10:18] Yeah. So it was really an accelerated timeline, a lot of resources put into it in an urgent need. So if you talk to people who work for companies and do clinical trials, clinical trials are very expensive. And you start with your phase one, which is a small safety trial, then you start the phase two, which is like a little more safety, a little more efficacy. And then you go to phase three and these will often be spread apart by several years as they review the data and think about as a company, what strategy do you want to go after. Can we raise the funds for the Phase three trial, which is very expensive?

[00:10:52] And so in this particular case, they just did all those back to back to back. They didn’t do a lot of the optimization that goes through, like, what is the right dosing? There was a little bit of that, but not as much as is normally done. And I just had to say, let’s go for it. And so because the vaccines had the support from the federal government, they could actually take the risk to go through all the trials, right. Because they’re very expensive. If you fail, you just kind of lose all that money. But because the government partnered or was willing to buy the doses, that really took that risk out of the picture for those companies.

[00:11:27] So I think that was the big thing. And also that the other big thing that I would say like from a virology point of view is that the pandemic was still ongoing. And so you could actually do the clinical trials. You might remember a few years ago in 2016, there was Zika virus pandemic. And in fact there were Zika virus vaccine candidates, even a mRNA vaccine candidate. But the Zika pandemic pretty much died out. And so you had a vaccine, but you had no way to test its efficacy. And so in this particular case, we are still testing a lot of efficacy. And so you need enough study participants to do the trial. You have to recruit them.

[00:12:04] And in this case, we had so many people that you could recruit for a study. It was actually able to get your end points, you know which is how effective is it in a controlled study with a matched-control group. So I think that was very exciting. And some of the reasons we were able to accelerate are support from the government, financial backing, the urgent need, and having a huge study population.

Grace: [00:12:25] So do you think there will be long lasting changes in the way that the government interacts with and funds virology research or medical research in general?

Stacy: [00:12:35] We would hope so. Others might know that as a professor at a medical school, one of the things we have to do is raise grant money, right. Grants fund our research. So the school doesn’t give us the money for that. They support us, but we have to get the money from the government. My dad always says this should make getting grants easier for you. You wish it would be the case. I think the NIH has always had a commitment to funding virology, but there are other diseases that are really important, too. And so it’s really kind of the budget isn’t large enough for the research that we really need.

[00:13:09] And so I’ve heard from people in Congress and many senators are supportive of biomedical research and increasing funds, but there’s just not enough money to go around. I think that one of the biggest lessons we learned this year is funding basic science is important. So the technology that led to the mRNA vaccines came from basic science and a key discovery that was made in 2004-2005. And we didn’t realize how important that was? I don’t want to predict, but I imagine they’ll get a Nobel Prize for it. Actually, that would be my prediction.

[00:13:45] So basic science is important. All science is important. And fundamentally, we need to just increase our funding for all science. That’s my take on it. Hopefully a lot of people have realized the importance of funding basic science from this pandemic. So the other thing that I want to say about funding science is I think that this pandemic has really also shared with us the lack of a public health infrastructure in the United States. We used to have a strong public health infrastructure. But in this case, when a new virus came out, we should have known what to do. We should have had a plan and there really wasn’t.

[00:14:21] And that’s because things like epidemiology, your local county small town public health departments have been underfunded a lot and that’s over the last 10-15 years. And so I think you need to keep those things funded because every day you might not need them, but when you need them, you really need them. People like to listen to people in their communities rather than the federal government. And so funding these kind of pandemic preparedness at the local level I also think is really important.

Grace: [00:14:49] Yeah. So I was a public health major in college. And one of the things I was super surprised to find was that if there was some sort of like Ebola outbreak in a particular place, the people in charge would be the local public health officials. Like it wouldn’t be the federal government coming in. It’s not like the FBI takes over a criminal case or something. It’s those local governments leading that response. So, yeah, I would have to definitely agree with you that investing in those infrastructures is very important. So if you were to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are deciding where funding goes, if you had maybe a million dollars to give, what sorts of research efforts would you be most excited to invest in?

Stacy: [00:15:30] So, first of all, I would say that a million dollars is enough to fund three people for five years. So we actually need to go like one hundred million dollars. But I think one of the biggest problems actually in our biomedical scientific enterprise is the lack of diversity in science. And so this means black and brown or people of color really need to be better funded. We know that there is data that the grant peer review process is actually quite biased in a number of different ways. And we also know that diverse teams are more successful.

[00:16:06] And so not only from an ethical point of view, but from actually how are we going to solve problems as a country, as a world? How do we fight the next pandemic? We need people from every walk of life to see scientists that look like them, to want to become scientists and to bring their creativity, their energy and their communities to the table. And so if I had a lot of money, I would use all of the existing research that has been done by a lot of my colleagues around the country into this space and change policy to fund black and brown scientists.

Grace: [00:16:39] What sorts of policies would you change? Would it be maybe replacing the people who are deciding where the money goes or would it be educating them or what kinds of changes are needed to drive that increase in diversity?

Stacy: [00:16:54] You know, this is not my area of expertise, so I’m not going to presume to know the right answers. But I think there has to be a real commitment from the NIH to not just talk about changing these problems, but to do bold solutions. And so they have advisory committees with the right people on them who can help them make these decisions. I think the peer reviewers of the grants are people like me who are trained in such a way to value certain things in the grant review process that will disadvantage certain groups.

[00:17:24] We all know this. So it needs to be led by people on the review panel saying, like, hey, those words that you use, they’re actually not okay. That’s not what we’re looking for, we are looking for good science. And that’s kind of risky. You could also just commit to funding more people of color. Everyone will say like, oh, well, we want the science to be a certain quality. Trust me, the quality is good. It’s not a problem of that. It’s about the structures in place are biased in judging what is good science or not good science. And so I think that’s a problem.

[00:17:58] At an institutional level, we need to hire more people of color. But not only do we need to hire them, we need to make them feel supportive, give them mentoring, treat them as colleagues, not as people who can make our quota of having more people in the pictures. And so access to mentoring, not overburdening them with service and thinking about our promotion criteria. So someone like me, I just got tenure. So I’m now an associate professor, but I went through that process. That whole process is biased and favors certain things that will be disadvantaged by other people who do not fit into the mold of what a scientist or what publishing should look like. Many of us know what’s wrong. It’s pretty bold move that to change that system. And I think that’s what really needs to happen.

Grace: [00:18:48] Do you think that sort of change would take a long time or do you think it would need to be something like kind of like what we saw in the last year with the Black Lives Matter movement, where it’s just like intense social support moving towards a single goal?

Stacy: [00:19:01] Yeah. So I think some things are easy and some things are harder. You’re not going to change everyone’s mind. That’s not why you do it right. I think those kinds of things could be harder. But there are easy things you could do. For example, when people are coming up for tenure, have them talk about their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Make white people do some of that work, too. That’s like something that actually costs zero money. It takes time, but I think that we should be giving that time. So, yes, mentoring programs, that don’t actually cost that much money.

[00:19:32] Fundamentally, I think we should just hire more black people or brown people as assistant professors, but then also support them. And so that means every institution needs to take a hard look at how they have supported people like this. What do they do to help them get tenure? Because processes like promotion or even if you’re a PhD student, graduation, those are all biased and they’re geared towards a white male demographic, which is kind of historically how it was. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right and that doesn’t mean that we should be still be doing that.

Grace: [00:20:05] So kind of changing gears a little bit. I’d like to get into what inspired you to become a scientist. And when you were growing up, were you always really interested in science?

Stacy: [00:20:16] So when I was a child, I was always interested in how things work. I remember my mom had a book, How Things Work. I just was like that’s cool. I want to learn a little bit more about that. I always hated science class in school because it just seemed really boring and like memorization, so I actually never wanted to be a scientist per se from a young age, but I was curious about how things worked. I have a very defining moment, which is when I don’t know what year it came out, but it has to do with the movie Jurassic Park.

[00:20:48] I think I was probably a junior in high school somewhere around that time. I remember riding the car with my dad and my dad liked to listen to NPR. And NPR was playing a show about the movie Jurassic Park. So I hadn’t read the book yet, but I was listening to this podcast, not podcasts, this radio show about Jurassic Park. And they were talking about the whole premise of Jurassic Park is that these people, we can recreate dinosaurs from fossilized mosquitoes. You could extract the DNA–because some mosquito bit the dinosaur–pull out the dinosaur DNA and then do some kind of magic, basically to make a dinosaur.

[00:21:32] Well, when I heard about the science behind that, there must have been some scientists talking about it, I just thought that was the coolest thing that I’d ever heard. You could go from the DNA to making a whole animal or an organism. So I went back to my high school teacher and I asked him about DNA. I guess I missed that day in biology class because I was like I want to study DNA. What is that field called? And he said biochemistry, chapter twenty four. I opened the book and it had a picture of DNA. And I was like, okay I’m going to be a biochemistry major. It really was as simple as that.

[00:22:05] And probably as naive as that, to be honest. From then on that’s what I wanted to do. I pretty much didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what being a scientist would be like. One of my grandpa’s was a chemistry professor at a small school in Minnesota. So in theory, I should have understood what that meant. But I thought maybe I’ll do pre-med biochemistry. When I got into college, I realized I didn’t want to do pre-med because I was really interested in the small little things like nucleic acids. And so I didn’t want to study bone or the body. I wanted to get right into those details. I’m like, how do they work? Like, how do molecules find each other? That sounds really cool.

[00:22:45] So that was why I wanted to be a scientist. The reason why I wanted to be a virologist is not as clear to me. Although I do know that my first or second year in college, I’m from Minnesota. I went to a small liberal arts college there, called this Gustavus Adolphus College. And every year at Gustavus, they hold something called the Nobel Conference. Gustavus is a Swedish Lutheran college. I’m not Swedish, but that’s the school I went to. And so they have an affiliation with the Nobel Foundation in Sweden that helps them organize a really large conference for a very small liberal arts college in middle-of-nowhere, Minnesota.

[00:23:22] And this particular conference was on viruses. So they brought in all these world leading virologists to the conference to talk about virology. And I’m assuming that that’s what really piqued my interest. Because after that point, I knew I wanted to be a virologist. And before that, I don’t have any memory of that. So why did I want to be a virologist? It was cool to me that viruses can go on to cells, change cell biology. And not only help you learn about the viruses, but also help you learn about the cells that they infect. So a lot of key discoveries in biology had been made by using viruses as tools to study this biology. I thought that was really cool and that’s why I wanted to do it.

Grace: [00:24:02] Yeah, I totally get that. Viruses are just little machines and are very interesting. So when you were pursuing virology, were there any moments where you were like, this isn’t at all what I expected? Or what were your expectations versus reality when it came to being a scientist?

Stacy: [00:24:21] So I did my Ph.D. at Yale. And when I was a graduate student at Yale, I, like many graduate students, struggled at some level. Mostly because I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be a scientist or to be a professor. From a young age I actually always wanted to be a teacher, and so being a professor to me seemed like the career path that I would want to choose. And I remember going to seminars or going to research and progress talks about other graduate students and thinking, wow, their science is so much cooler than mine. They are so much smarter than I am.

[00:24:59] And then you hear all about how like it’s really hard to get a grant. It’s really hard to be a professor. And I thought, well, you know, I’m not smarter than these five people I know. So I’ll never be a professor. I’ll never get the grant. And so that was really disheartening. You could do all this work and then try to get a job as a professor, you would never get one. And that seemed like a little too risky for me. It made sense to finish the PhD, and for all students out there, I would say if you can stick it out, it makes sense to stick it out.

[00:25:29] There are obviously cases where that doesn’t make sense. And so I’m not going to speak to all situations, but having a PhD opens a lot of doors. And when I thought about what I really wanted to do, I thought that being a virus hunter sounds cool. I want to travel the world and do that. And so I was already working on my application to try to get into the Johns Hopkins public health program for people with a PhD And then maybe work for the CDC or the WHO as a virus hunter. So I was putting that application together. Now I’m really glad I didn’t did that because it actually is like a lot less glamorous than you see it in the movies.

[00:26:04] I was talking to some of my committee members and then to my graduate advisor who really convinced me that I had what it takes to be a scientist and to be a professor, which is something I hadn’t seen in myself. I just thought I was so different than all the people I had seen in a science professors. I was so different than my classmates who were like, “I want to be a PI.” I don’t want to do that. I don’t look like you. I don’t do the same things you do. It didn’t seem like it was something that I could do or that I could be part of that community.

[00:26:38] Until my graduate advisor really stepped up and said, “Stacy, you have what it takes.” And also one of my committee members and so I’ll name them here. So Daniel DiMaio at Yale was my PhD advisor, and he was the one who really believed in me, as well as one of my committee members, Peter Lengyel, who’s now passed away. And so the two of them said, try postdocs, see if you like it, do one year. And if you don’t like it, I’ll write you a letter wherever you want. But we think you have what it takes. Actually after that it was very clear to me that I wanted to go and do a postdoc and then keep going on in science on the academic track.

[00:27:14] Because actually I think science is cool. I’m curious. I like thinking about big problems. I still didn’t know if I was creative enough to be like a cool, innovative scientist. But one thing that I say to all students is that by about year four of my postdoc after my PhD, I realized that I was creative. I had a lot of good ideas and so, you know, college student, first year graduate student, first year postdoc: you don’t have to know if you have what it takes. You just need to be curious and want to try. You don’t have all the information, I think, to make the decision to pull yourself out of the running.

[00:27:48] Now, if you don’t want to do that, that’s cool. But if you think you might want to do that, then try to find a mentor who can really talk to you about what the whole process was like for them. Because a lot of people have a story somewhat similar to mine, especially with women. We often have very different stories, unlike the kind of classic path. Everyone who thinks that they might want to do it owes it to themselves to try to find a mentor who can help encourage them along the way.

Grace: [00:28:13] So what do you think are the best qualities of a mentor? How can mentors better support their students to instil confidence in them or maybe a realistic view of themselves?

Stacy: [00:28:25] So I think if you’re a trainee, you should not think about only having one mentor but having multiple mentors. And these mentors will help you in all aspects of your career. And ideally you want to feel comfortable enough talking to them and being honest with them because they can only help you if they know what’s going on inside that brain of yours. And so you might have mentors that help you. For example, for me, that could be a mentor who looks like me. So that can be helpful. It can be helpful to have mentor who’s in your research area that you’re interested in.

[00:28:59] It can also be important to have a mentor that has a career like you have. So those are all things that one can look for in what we might call a mentoring team. Now things that mentors can do to help trainees as well–I actually just took six hours of mentor training and we learned a lot of thing. But I would say the biggest problem between a mentor and a mentee is ineffective communication. And so as a mentor understanding, that communicating with your mentee is important, the words that you use matter, and that our job as a mentor is not to get them to be you, but to help them assess their skills and figure out what they want to do based on their skills. And so I think those are effective mentors.

[00:29:43] And for mentees I mean, be open, be able to communicate and also tell your mentor what you need. As a mentor I really want my mentees or people that I interact with, even in class, to succeed. But I can’t read your mind. So it’s an important thing for the mentees to tell their mentor how they’re feeling. And for mentors to learn skills, to bring out the things that they need to help them be effective mentors.

Grace: [00:30:08] So you’ve been at a few different universities. So you’ve been at a small liberal arts college. You went to Yale for graduate school and then you moved to Duke. So what are some of the biggest differences that you’ve seen in the different cultures between those universities and some of the things that you like about being a Duke?

Stacy: [00:30:25] I think Duke and Yale are very similar in a lot of respects, to be quite honest. I did a postdoc at University of Washington in Seattle and that was very different as a public school. So that’s bigger, less personalized. And then a big difference between Duke and Yale is that Yale is a much older institution than Duke is. So fundamentally, there are some differences related to that. But I like being at Duke. And one of the reasons I also liked being at Yale is that they’re a little bit smaller. And so this is also related to kind of my undergrad, which was small liberal arts college.

[00:31:00] It’s so much easier, I think as a faculty and probably as a student to find different types of communities and interface beyond just your department into like the whole community. So I could go to like an English lecture just because I thought that was interesting. So I really like this kind of smaller aspect. What I also really like about Duke is how collaborative and interdisciplinary it is. It is quite common for me to be talking to someone in the biochemistry department, the chemistry department, or immunology.

[00:31:35] And I think this is really exciting. When I first came to Duke eight years ago or something like that, there were actually a lot of new assistant professors that were hired at that time. And so as a newer professor, I had all these friends. I didn’t know that I would be friends with other professors, but I certainly am. And so that’s fun because we all go through the same career challenges. But then, like, inevitably we get to talking about science or some new technique. Then you can build like, real collaborations and do cool discoveries together.

[00:32:08] So I think at a place like Duke it’s pretty easy. The pandemic has changed a lot of that. So for the new assistant professors who started in the last year or so, this is going to be one of the big challenges, helping them find that community in the next couple of years as they kind of do what I already did.

Grace: [00:32:24] Do you think a lot of the remote aspects of doing work, like maybe working from home a couple of times a week will be maintained?

Stacy: [00:32:30] I mean, I think some of them well. For example, certain kinds of meetings are really easy to have remotely. Everyone’s really comfortable with that. Having these Zoom meetings with colleagues all across the country a few years ago, I mean people did it, but it wasn’t super popular. Now, I think it would be pretty easy to move school-wide things to Zoom fairly easily like a training of some kind. But I do think that the real personal connection or the things that happen when you’re getting coffee, the people you run into, who you just casually talk with, those things will still be important in the future.

[00:33:09] I think one other thing that the pandemic has really taught us is the importance of having structures to promote or support people who have children. You actually can’t work from home if you also have children at home for school. It’s just not possible. And so I think those kinds of challenges and how we support folks with children, you know, pre-tenure with their grants at the university level. I think universities really need to support these things because they have caused huge differences in people’s productivity. Some people’s productivity went way up, some people’s way down. I hope that all universities are taking a hard look at their finances and giving support to those folks who need it.

Grace: [00:33:50] So as we wrap up, I always like to ask the people who come on the podcast if they have advice for people who might be trying to walk in your career path. I know you’ve given a little bit here, but could you maybe say a few words to students, which there may be plenty now who have become interested in virology. What advice would you give to them as they go forward?

Stacy: [00:34:13] So I think from the beginning, I will tell you that there’s no one right way to be a scientist or to be a virologist. You don’t have to do it like I did it. You don’t have to do it like the person next to you. If you’re curious, just keep trying to go one step farther. Along the way, I think it’s really important to find people who will support you and who will be mentors for you. This was really hard for me when I was coming to this system. Certainly I had them, but I don’t think I used them as much as I do now. And I wish I had them my whole career because I think that would have been helpful.

[00:34:47] I would say, just be curious. Go do what is interesting to you. You don’t have to try to predict what will be trendy or popular or important. If you like the science, you’ll find a way to make it important one day or you’ll leave, and so you want to do something that is cool to you and that can motivate you, because I think we all want to be happy in our jobs. And if you don’t love what you do, then you should get another job.

Grace: [00:35:14] Well, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on virology and on scientific culture, if you will. Yeah. Thank you for coming on the podcast.

Stacy: [00:35:23] Thanks for having me, Grace.