Name: Caitlin Pepperell
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Zodiac Sign: Aries
What forces shape the evolution of human pathogens? In what ways has human evolution been influenced by infectious diseases? How does the environment affect population-level patterns of infectious disease? These are some of the broad questions we tackle in the Pepperell Lab by studying genetic and other types of data from humans and human pathogens. We are particularly interested in granulomatous diseases, e.g. tuberculosis and the endemic mycoses.
What inspired you to select your field of study?
I got interested in infectious diseases after spending a summer as a medical student working in an HIV clinic. The clinic was run by a remarkable couple who offered holistic, patient-centered care in several settings, including local prisons. This was at the advent of effective drug treatment and we were privileged to see people recover from what had previously been a death sentence.
That experience also gave me my first taste of research. Later on, I found my footing as a researcher when a mentor gave me a dataset and said “what do you make of this?” This question led me into the field of population genetics and to my training as an evolutionary biologist.
What is one piece of advice you would give to students?
Science is hard work and challenging in myriad ways, but at its essence it should be a joyful pursuit. Look for mentors, opportunities and environments that make you excited about the pursuit of new knowledge.
When you’re not in the lab, how do you spend your time?
In nature, as much as possible. I am an avid paddler. Much of my time is devoted to my family and we enjoy outdoor activities as a family.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had?
That is a tie between a fiery Cambodian coconut soup from a little restaurant near where I went to school, a phyllo ricotta and lemon pastry I had in Naples, and a fresh artichoke and Meyer lemon risotto that I made.