Trainee Spotlight: Elana Elkin

Apr 16, 2019 | Project 2 (Toxicology), PROTECT Team, PROTECT Trainees, Trainee Spotlight

Elana Elkin is a PhD candidate from the University of Michigan working in the discipline of Toxicology under the mentorship of Project 2 Investigator Rita Loch-Caruso. Her dissertation is focused on her research as a PROTECT Trainee and is titled, First-Trimester Placental Cellular Responses to Trichloroethylene Metabolite S-(1, 2-Dichlorovinyl)-L-Cysteine Exposure. Elana has been a trainee in PROTECT since the Fall of 2015, and has had the opportunity to design and execute scientific experiments evaluating chemical toxicity in human and animal tissues and cells, mentor undergraduate student researchers, collaborate with faculty, staff and fellow graduate students across research discipline, present research findings at seminars and research conferences, and publish research findings in peer-reviewed journals. In 2016, Elana presented her work at the 50th anniversary celebration of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Annual SRP meeting, winning first place in the health sciences student poster competition. Most recently, Elana presented at the Michigan Society of Toxicology 2018 Regional Meeting, SRP 2018 Annual Meeting, and the National Society of Toxicology 2019 Annual Meeting, where she was awarded second place for the Vera W. Hudson and Elizabeth K. Weisburger Scholarship Fund Student Award presented by the Women in Toxicology Specialty Section, and she was a finalist for the Smith Graduate Student Award. The Hudson Weisburger Scholarship Fund Award, “is given to a SOT graduate student member (current or pending), who is engaged in full-time graduate study towards a PhD in toxicology, demonstrates outstanding academic achievement in the field of toxicology, and demonstrates leadership and service.”

Due to her passion, dedicated research efforts, and drive to continue participating within PROTECT, Elana was selected to be interviewed and highlighted. The following has been adapted from the transcript of her recent interview.

Elana was drawn to participate in PROTECT Center research by working in mentor and investigator Dr. Loch-Caruso’s Reproductive Toxicology Lab. Elana’s interest in toxicology stems from her fascination with disease processes in the body and extends to her interest in Environmental Health. “I am passionate about Environmental Health because health consequences associated with exposure to Environmental contaminants are 100% preventable. Most of the time people have no control over when or where they are exposed to chemicals and may not even know about it.”

Elana was awarded the Individual Development Plan Award by the PROTECT Training Core 2 years in a row which allowed her to travel to numerous conferences to present, thus enhancing her communication and networking skills along the way.  “My favorite part of working with PROTECT has been the ability to interact and learn from collaborators in other disciplines such as environmental engineers and geologists/hydrologists working to mitigate the effects of Superfund Sites on human health and the environment. For example, learning from a student studying how geology and hydrology of an area affect water flow and how water contaminants spread in Puerto Rico’s Karst terrain. I think the most important thing I gained from working with PROTECT is understanding how important and compulsory interdisciplinary work is when trying to address very challenging and complex environmental health challenges.”

When asked about how her mentorship with Dr. Loch-Caruso prepared her for her future, Elana explained that her mentor encouraged her to develop her own hypotheses and experiments as well as providing guidance on productivity and time management. “Rita consistently asked me to explain the scientific theories behind my research, methods and conclusions. She also strongly encouraged me to develop other skills vital to a successful career as a scientist including grant-writing, networking and communication skills. Overall, she has been an outstanding role model and has been critical in molding me into a competent scientist.”

Throughout her tenure as a Trainee, Elana completed many posters, publications, and posters which can be reviewed on her CV below. “My favorite presentation was presenting in the SRP Annual Meeting Poster Winners Webinar Series. This was a nationally broadcasted webinar sponsored by the SRP. It was very early on in my PhD training and I did not have much experience presenting my research. This presentation was my favorite because it was a turning point for me. After presenting, I gained confidence in my abilities as a scientist and finally began to shed my own ‘imposter syndrome’ feelings. The title was: Effects of the Trichloroethylene Metabolite S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)-L-cysteine on Mitochondrial Function in Human Cytotrophoblasts. ”

Following her upcoming graduation in May 2019, Elana plans to secure a post-doctoral fellowship. We wish her congratulations and know she has a bright future; we have been lucky to have her on the PROTECT Team.