Kelsey Zielinski arrived for her first day as a graduate student at the N.C. State Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) on April 15, and she met her group of interns with the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) just one month later. Flash forward another month, and she is teaching her interns about the scientific research process, nutrition studies, and what life is like as a scientist at the North Carolina Research Campus.
Zielinski received her Bachelor’s degree in biology from Clemson University in South Carolina and then spent two years working as a laboratory technician. By the time she arrived at the PHHI under the guidance of Mary Ann Lila, PhD, and Massimo Iorizzo, PhD, she was ready to dive in to phytochemicals, genetics, and mentoring her P2EP interns.
“It is definitely a challenge,” she said, about teaching interns and working on her own research projects at the same time. “But I was really happy to start graduate school where there is an internship program for PhD students to get involved in.”
From looking for total bioactive content of berries to investigating the different types of antioxidant compounds in different crops, Zielinski has already started sharing time between three separate projects. Her group of P2EP interns work alongside her, learning quickly how to multi-task.
“When do certain chemicals become active as a crop grows? When do specific types of antioxidants show up in berries?” Zielinski posed these questions to her interns, and they go to the field every week, collecting samples in an attempt to answer them.
Among Zielinski’s projects is a database development. She has to collaborate with a bioinformatician who works in her co-advisor’s lab. “We gather the genetic data and essentially hand it off to him to work with the bioinformatics side of the database,” Zielinski said. “Once it is done, the database will be useful to all kinds of researchers who want to build prediction models based on gene criteria.”
Upon completing her graduate program, Zielinski sees herself working in a plant breeding program, specifically one that focuses on breeding traits for human health.
With a significant amount of experience learning and teaching already under her belt, Zielinski is excited about the upcoming years with PHHI and with P2EP how they are preparing her to achieve her career goal.
By: Kara Marker, NCRC Marketing