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Emily Sipko by Fall leaves and trees

Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? And where did you do your undergrad?

I am from Newark, Delaware. I went to undergrad at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where I studied biochemistry. I did research studying the effects of macromolecular crowding on enzyme kinetics, which solidified my interest in protein biochemistry research and pursuing my PhD.

Why did you choose UNC specifically?

I mainly chose UNC due to the emphasis they seemed to place on student well-being. All of the graduate students during my visit seemed content, and I appreciated that creating a work-life balance was acknowledged and encouraged. I was also drawn to the multitude of research opportunities available in the fields I was interested in, as well as the flexibility offered by the umbrella program.

What are you studying for your PhD?

Emily Sipko near city skyline at nightIn the Berlow lab, we study intrinsically disordered proteins, which are proteins that lack a stable secondary and tertiary structure. My project currently focuses on elucidating the interaction between two disease-relevant IDPs. I hope to better understand the mechanism of the interaction and its functional significance, and how this information could inform new strategies for drug development. So far, I have done a lot of protein purification and pulldown assays to address this question, but I will also use NMR spectroscopy and other biophysical techniques in the future to continue learning more about these IDPs.

What would you advise the new students starting their PhD journey?

My advice to new students is to be kind to yourself and establish a work-life balance. Every day is not going to be easy, but being your harshest critic does not get you any closer to success. I think it is important to give yourself grace and acknowledge that doing your best is more than enough.  Also, finding an outlet that allows you to step back from frustration and recharge is very important!

What are your hobbies outside of the lab?

Outside of lab I enjoy taking walks, reading romance and self-improvement books, and going to the gym. Now that it is fall, I spend most of my Sundays watching football and cheering on my favorite team – the Steelers!