Student Spotlight: Abbey Banas

PhD candidate reflects on the Stritch culture and her researchAbbey Banas

By Sam Uhlarik

January 31, 2022

From researching human pathogens for her PhD program to helping lead the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Abbey Banas can confidently attest to the Stritch culture that has formed her into the scientist she has become. Learn more about Abbey’s research and her Stritch experience:

What is the focus of your research and what prompted you to study it?

I am studying how a novel toxin system in the opportunistic human pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, contributes to virulence in humans and competition between bacteria. I always have dreamed of studying infectious diseases and eventually developing vaccines and therapeutics for them, so my PhD research project is the perfect avenue for that goal. Eventually, I want to work for the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization to help learn about and find ways to combat deadly antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Describe your work as co-president of the Graduate Student Council.

As co-president, I help our group represent the voice of graduate students to the university. We promote service to the community through volunteer events, such as performing science experiments with underrepresented youth. We also promote community among the graduate students through fun activities to lift spirits and friendships, such as sports games. Finally, we ensure that students' concerns and problems are heard and taken care of.

Describe the Stritch culture and what it means to you.

The culture in the Stritch Graduate School is one of cooperation and community. As scientists, we all aim to help each other succeed and support each other through the difficulties that come with experimentation. It means so much to me to have the support of all my lab mates and classmates, not only with getting through tough classes with study sessions, but also learning how to conduct good science and explain that science to the world. The culture at Stritch has formed me into a well-spoken, confident, and excited scientist who is ready to enter the field of infectious diseases and make important discoveries for human health.

How have you engaged with the community at Stritch, remotely and in-person?

I have engaged in countless ways with the Stritch community. Between organizing our own events through GSC, such as our St. Albert’s Day dinner-dance and start-of-the-term picnics, I have participated in other organizations, including Women in Science, which promotes teaching STEM to girls to keep them interested in a male-dominated field. I also have volunteered in the Quinn Center community as a tutor for young students, especially during the COVID-19 shutdowns when many students struggled to make connections and learn material in a meaningful way. Stritch is always providing avenues to engage with the community and contribute.

How have Stritch faculty mentored you during your studies and research?

My biggest mentor is my principal investigator, Assistant Professor Jon Allen. He has been the most supportive person for my growth as a scientist. His door is always open to explain experiments, answer questions, and discuss my data. Yet, he allows me to be independent and learn to do science through my own trials and tribulations. He is one of the most intelligent people and his love of science is contagious. He, along with many other faculty in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and other students that have become my lifelong friends, have helped me to grow so much and be excited about research, even when it is difficult and does not yield results. That mentorship is the true meaning of science.

The meaning of science to me is to pursue knowledge about the world using an unbiased scientific method. And to do this, collaboration and mentorship are key, so the new generation of scientists like me can be taught how to perform science and how to relay that science to the public. Without mentorship and collaboration between people with different perspectives, ideas, and knowledge, science could not be done properly.

Why did you choose Stritch? Has this reason held true to your experience?

I chose Stritch for my PhD studies because of the culture and people here. During my first interview, I felt nothing but support and true enjoyment of science for the sake of discovery and learning. Everyone wants each other to succeed, everyone wants to help and give ideas, and everyone will be a shoulder to lean on regardless of what you are going through. This reason has not only held true in my three years here, but it has been exemplified with how understanding and flexible faculty have been, especially during the COVID-19 shutdown. Every concern and complaint we have had as graduate students always has been heard by the department and school, and compromises are always made.

Finally, this department’s value of science above all is what drew me here and gives me countless opportunities to present my research and get feedback—something invaluable for a budding scientist. I am very glad I chose this program!