Science Olympiad competitions and discoveries in Durham Academy classroom labs sparked a passion for science that has taken alumna Francesca Tomasi ’11 to spend many hours conducting research in labs at the University of Chicago, at the National Institutes of Health, and now at Harvard University. Her ultimate dream? Team up with twin sister Alessandra ’11 to develop and implement public health tools.
Q: What have you been up to since graduating from DA?
A: I attended the University of Chicago, where I majored in Biological Sciences with concentrations in Microbiology and Ecology & Evolution. I also performed on-campus research in a clinical lab studying the molecular epidemiology of recurrent MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections and in a microbiology lab studying bacterial genetics behind Legionnaire’s Disease. I was a member of the University of Chicago varsity track and field team, where I ran the 200, 400, 4x200 and 4x400 meter relays.
After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2015, I accepted a research position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, in a tuberculosis drug discovery lab. I performed independent research there for two years, identifying the targets and mechanism of action of newly identified inhibitors of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: This summer, I moved to Boston and started my Ph.D. at Harvard University, in the Biological Sciences in Public Health program (a joint program between the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health). I am doing research in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and just wrapped up my first of three lab rotations. In the spring, I will choose a dissertation lab.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
Science has been my favorite subject ever since I can remember. Over the years, as I gained exposure to global issues through classes and traveling, I became passionate about continuing to do science in pursuit of an elevated global standard of health and equity. I love being able to ask questions with implications for novel preventives, diagnostics or therapeutics, and developing the tools to answer them. Continuing in academic research with a focus on public health felt like a no-brainer after my time at DA, the University of Chicago, and the NIH.
Q: What DA experiences influenced you or helped you get where you are today?
A: Without a doubt, the science teachers I had at DA were pivotal in nurturing my love of the field. From the classroom to Science Olympiad, I received so much enthusiastic support from teachers like Ms. Whiting, Mr. Parry, Ms. Newman, Ms. Kanoy and Ms. Ward. Being surrounded by like-minded peers both in school and on the track (special thanks to Mr. Cullen, Mr. Teagarden and Coach Irons) fostered a motivating environment academically and athletically. I also have to thank DA’s phenomenal writing program, which taught me from a young age how to express my ideas on paper. Two years ago, I founded a website, www.InfectivePerspective.com, which features articles by students on infectious disease news, research and policy. DA gave me the confidence in college to pursue writing outside of the classroom, which in turn led me to create this website and share a passion for spreading ideas and knowledge to general audiences.
Q: What are your interests away from work?
A: Outside of the lab, my interests include running, reading, writing and, now, exploring Boston. I also love traveling and hope that my research continues to take me to new parts of the world. I have also more recently become an avid player of Settlers of Catan, and conquered a dislike for heights by going skydiving.
Q: What’s on the horizon for you?
A: That’s a hard question for someone just starting their Ph.D.! I expect to be here for the better part of the next half decade (someone, please check on me in 2023). Long-term, I would love to start a research lab of my own. Perhaps my twin sister (Alessandra Tomasi ’11) and I will one day combine our M.D. and Ph.D. degrees to create a clinical research initiative that incorporates cutting-edge technology and active fieldwork to develop and implement affordable, sustainable public health tools.