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Student Spotlight – Emily Davidson

June 26, 2019

Emily Davidson is a first-year PhD student in the Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) department where she is using and developing a variety of molecular, biochemical and analytical chemistry-approaches to understand the relationship between environmental exposure, oxidative stress and metabolic disease.

Her interests were not always directed toward the biological sciences. As an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, her studies began in the arts and humanities. However, her courses, which focused on the intersections between food, culture and society, led her to study and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences. 

During her time as an undergraduate student, Emily was a research assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Jenifer Fenton. There she studied the modulation of tissue-specific inflammation and obesity by dietary fats. Her research led her to publish several peer-reviewed articles, speak at a national conference and, eventually, to pursue graduate study. Additionally, Emily was introduced to mass spectrometry-based lipidomics and metabolomics through the study of lipid metabolism and colon cancer risk. This led her to become a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry technician at Colorado State University’s Proteomics and Metabolomics Facility where she developed methods for, prepared and analyzed a variety of specimens, ranging from human blood, to water from alpine lakes, to poop from mice in space.

Now entering her second year of the PhD program, this journey has brought Emily to the use of cell and mouse models to study the physiology of and cellular bioenergetics in the pancreas, particularly the beta-cell. She notes that, while her interest in biochemistry and cellular metabolism might have been fulfilled in a basic science department, one thing was lacking, the role of the environment in human health. The Yale School of Public Health provides a unique opportunity to study the multifaceted nature of human disease, which includes environmental exposures, she says. “As the environment rapidly changes, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the factors influencing ecological balance and human health, not only at the epidemiological-level but, the molecular-level. It was the Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine that had the facilities and expertise to undertake advanced study in basic biological sciences research and traditional public health methodology.”  

By applying rigorous laboratory methods to public health problems, biology informs population health data. One such method is metabolomics, through which population-based data can be coupled with human biological specimens to discover novel markers for health, disease and environmental exposure. “While this multifaceted approach is difficult, adding more biologically-derived information to the public health narrative will help drive a more holistic understanding of human health. In turn, this will advance the way health and environmental professionals interact in the spaces of human-environmental contact,” says Emily. 

In addition to her studies, Emily volunteers as an undergraduate student mentor with Women in Science at Yale (WISAY) and will serve as a Yale School of Public Health representative on the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) during the 2019-2020 academic year. She is also an avid hiker, rock climber and ultra-marathoner.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on June 10, 2019