Fread Has Earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Activities at UVA: Graduate Biomedical Engineering Society, Biotechnology Training Grant, Graduate Engineering Student Council, Graduate Biosciences Society, Raven Society

Q: Looking back to the time when you applied to UVA Engineering, why did you choose this school? 

A: During the interview process, I was able to meet with fantastic scientists who were very clearly excited about their research. Not only was the research truly inspiring, but in my interactions with the faculty and the graduate students, I felt truly welcomed and wanted. Being an indecisive fresh college student, I wasn't sure at the time if I would pursue a career in academia or industry. UVA Biomedical Engineering clearly highlighted how they encourage professional development, something not highlighted quite so well by the other schools that I interviewed with. I was very excited when I received my offer to join the program. Looking back, I am very happy that the younger version of myself was smart enough to know that UVA BME was the right choice for me.

After your time here, how are you different now – how have you grown as a person?

To start, I'm much more decisive now than fresh out of my undergraduate education. I ended up joining [BME Assistant Professor] Eli Zunder’s lab, where I was their very first graduate student. This unique experience taught me to be a self-starter, harnessing resources from all around me to accomplish my research and professional goals. BME at UVA is very collaborative, and I learned to not be afraid to walk next door or down the hall to meet my fellow graduate students and ask for help learning how to code or do an experiment. I’m happy to say that I am more excited about science than I ever have been in my life. The more I learned in graduate school, and the more I interacted with ridiculously talented and motivated scientists and colleagues, the more I became excited for the future and my role contributing to meaningful research. 

What was your favorite or most memorable educational experience at UVA Engineering, and why? Was there someone who helped you along your journey?

I mentioned that I was the first graduate student in the Zunder Lab. Some of my most memorable times were from those early days, when Eli Zunder was training me hands-on to become an expert in single cell analysis techniques. We had a ton of undergraduate students working to build the lab with us, and it was a fast moving, exciting time, especially once my fellow graduate students Corey [Williams], Amy [Van Deusen], and Sarah [Goggin] joined the lab.

What’s next for you?

Largely inspired by my internship experience during my Ph.D. at Editas Medicine in Cambridge, MA (thank you, BME Department, for your dedication to professional development of your students!), I am currently applying to jobs in the biotechnology space focusing on cell-based therapeutics. My graduate research focused largely on single cell-based characterization of neural cells generated from mouse stem cells in a dish. My internship showed me that these skills can easily be translated to characterize a range of cell-based therapeutics with applications for treating many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and neurological disease.

What positive impact do you hope to make in the future? Is there a big societal challenge you’d like to help solve?

I am optimistic that cell-based therapeutics will have a place in providing treatment options where we have exhausted other options, and even work better than the current standard of care. We have already seen the promise of these therapies in clinical and preclinical studies, and I believe that we are just scratching the surface of what we can do.

Beyond just my individual impact in the context of my research, I would also like to continue (and improve) work in outreach to underrepresented communities in STEM. Higher education is inaccessible to many, and even when students from these groups start on a path toward obtaining education or becoming a scientist, there are many challenges they face along the way. Many might not even consider science as a career path or know what options are available to them. I believe diverse backgrounds and opinions are fundamental to improving science, often in unpredictable ways. I plan to incorporate scientific outreach in my future, even as I move away from academia.

How has UVA Engineering prepared you for your future, for following your dreams or personal mission?

I feel my graduate education has definitely prepared me for my career goals, and while I am sad to leave my friends and coworkers, I am excited for these next steps! Thank you, UVA, for the endless opportunities for professional growth, my internship though our Biotechnology Training Grant program, and the relationships I formed with my fellow graduate students and faculty members that will last well beyond my years here.

What advice would you give to engineering students just starting out?  

Talk to everyone! Faculty, students outside your lab, students in other departments, people in the community. Challenge yourself by presenting your research every chance you get. UVA BME has annual student seminars, and, even if you don't feel ready, sign up and get yourself and your research out there. UVA is a fantastic place to work and you are surrounded by phenomenal people, but you have to also make the effort to get to know them and create opportunities that will improve you as a person and as a scientist.

I am a big proponent of joining student organizations and outreach groups, even though you might want to prioritize your research entirely, you can still do this, be a successful scientist, and help others at the same time. Often, involvement in these groups will even help in your research (through finding collaborators or consults for your own work), and it is very rewarding in other intangible ways.

Class of 2022: Kristen Fread - Portrait

Class of 2022 biomedical engineering Ph.D. recipient Kristen Fread