Meet Juliana Feng, a student at Feinberg School of Medicine in the first year of her PhD program. She’s a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). She has completed two years of medical school and is now in the graduate school portion of her program. After she has completed her PhD, she will do her third and fourth years of medical school.

8:00 a.m.

BEEP BEEP BEEP. Time to wake up! I moved to Evanston from Chicago when I started my PhD, mostly to shorten my commute to lab (which is on the Evanston campus). I love Evanston for many reasons, but the best part of moving has been that I can wake up as little as 30 minutes before work, and still get to lab on time. I usually brush my teeth, eat my breakfast and I’m out the door. My favorite things for breakfast include purple congee, scallion pancakes and pork baos. Today, I have some milk, fruit and youtiao (Chinese cruller)!

8:35 a.m.

As long as it’s not freezing, I like to walk to school. Evanston is gorgeous (lots of foliage, brick buildings, coffee shops), and a morning stroll helps me center myself before getting to work. Once I’m on campus, I walk past the Lakefill (an area where Northwestern meets Lake Michigan) and weave through crowds of cheerful undergrads before getting to my building. All in all, it’s about a 15 min walk, just enough time to review my plan for the day and count my many blessings.

9:00 a.m.

I’m pursuing my PhD under Julius Lucks, professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Julius is a phenomenal mentor. He’s currently in London on a Guggenheim Fellowship, so I Zoom with him regularly. Our lab is interested in understanding RNA structure-function relationships and using these principles to engineer low-cost diagnostics.

The engineering students in my lab get together every week for subgroup meeting, where we present data, troubleshoot experiments, and talk through future directions. It’s a great way to get feedback from both Julius and more senior students on my work, and everyone always has great ideas about next steps. It’s also just nice to start the day by seeing everyone!

After subgroup meeting, I’m headed to lab to start my work for the day. Today, I’m inoculating a liquid culture with bacteria that make a protein called T7 RNA polymerase. This polymerase is a key part of the transcription-based biosensors that I work on, so I’m hoping to produce and purify more of this protein this week. It’s a little finicky to make, so wish me luck!

11:30 a.m.

Yay - lunchtime! I’m so excited today to get lunch at the Kellogg Global Hub with my two friends (and fellow third-year MSTPers) Jane and Ryan. Jane works in Evanston studying electrochemical sensing, and Ryan works in Chicago, but takes coursework in Evanston. My MSTP cohort has some of the most wonderful people in the world, so it always makes my day to be able to spend time with them. I’ll be in Chicago this weekend to see some of my other (amazing!) cohort-mates. We’re a tight-knit bunch, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

12:30 p.m.

After lunch, I’m off to my Biomaterials and Medical Devices class, one of my Biomedical Engineering (BME) track courses. BME PhD students at Northwestern can choose between multiple focus areas, or “tracks,” and having completed my undergraduate degree in materials science, the Biomaterials track was just right for me. Today, we’re discussing the different ways that biomaterials can be sterilized, including steam, gamma radiation and ethylene oxide-based methods.

2:00 p.m.

Once class is done, I walk over to the Evanston Synthetic Biology Mega-Lab to do some imaging and check in with my co-advisor, Neha Kamat, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering. Neha is a synthetic biology and materials expert, and has a lot of experience with imaging. She’s also brilliant, kind, and an Asian woman in science academia, so I really look up to her! I feel incredibly fortunate to have resources like Neha to guide me in both my research and career.

4:45 p.m.

I wrap up my work for the day so I can make it to Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where I co-direct a program called PRISM. PRISM stands for PRomoting Inner-city Youth in Science and Medicine, and is a collaboration between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago's Pedersen-McCormick Club and Northwestern MSTP, now in its 11th year.

Tonight, I’m leading a session on carbohydrate metabolism, where we’ll talk to members about different types of sugars and guide them through experiments to test various beverages for their sugar content. PRISM is one of my favorite experiences at Northwestern; all the members are incredibly bright and it’s wonderful to share in their excitement for science.

8:00 p.m.

Time flies, doesn’t it? I like to call my parents every night to exchange stories about our day, so it’s the first thing on my mind once I get home. They live in Puerto Rico, where I grew up, and they’re always hilarious to talk to.

After our call, I’ll settle into my couch to work on my knitting project (a fog-colored scarf) or make some progress on my latest read (Remarkably Bright Creatures). After that, I’ll water my plants, and then I’ll be ready to hit the hay. Thank you for spending a day with me!