Scientist Spotlight: featuring Kelly Harris

Dr. Kelly Harris joined the EMGS in 2016 as a postdoc working under Dr. Barbara Parsons. During her first year as a postdoc, Barbara approached Kelly with the opportunity to attend the 2016 EMGS annual meeting. While initially hesitant, Kelly accompanied Barbara to the meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. It was here that the EMGS left an impression on Kelly as a unique organization with an emphasis on community and focused research. On the topic of joining the society, Dr. Harris said:

“Usually, you’re just a number in attendance. I will admit that EMGS is all about attending the meetings, but you’re needed to help move the science, move the society. And you can be involved. It can help you!  For one, your involvement in the scientific community is always looked at. And it’s great to be in EMGS, because it’s not just something to put on your CV. You’re actually working, you’re actually doing things, you’re really there to touch the sciences and make the connections that you need to get recognition and funding, and you can work on a platform to get that research out there to everyone in the community!”

After joining the EMGS, Kelly has been very active in both scientific and leadership roles within the society. In 2017, Harris became the chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, her first leadership role in the society. During her tenure as chair, she got to know the workings of the EMGS, “behind the scenes,” working closely with her committee members. Regarding leadership in the EMGS, Dr. Harris remarked:

“It’s a very close-knit team, so everyone has their own kind of work, but it’s great because you know your ideas are going to be heard. They’re always wanting fresh ideas, so that’s been a wonderful aspect. Say for instance with DEI. We aim to work with other committees, making sure we’re carrying out the mission of the EMGS as far as diversity goes, and making sure we’re reaching all the audiences we can in the scientific community. Now I get to see, for instance, how scholarships are analyzed and evaluated as they come in. One of the scholarships they were doing included a video recording as part of the application process. So, you get to see where ideas are coming in, but also how we can make sure that we’re not missing people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to apply, or even become a member of EMGS. We’ve gone through a lot of evaluation on making sure that we are a diverse society. Not just on race or ethnic background, but on religion and making sure the members of the LGBTQIA are represented and their science…there’s a lot of science around populations of LGBTQIA that’s very important and needs to be highlighted.

“Thankfully, with me working in DEI, moving to council was really easy because I was able to come in and have the focus of, ‘Okay, so how are we making sure we’re reaching the audiences we want.’ And they’re always asking for ideas. Nothing really gets shot down, and especially as a younger researcher it’s great, because not only are you able to work on this side [of administration in the EMGS], but you get mentors, and I didn’t expect that would happen along the way.”

During her term as chair of the DEI, Dr. Harris worked with several past EMGS presidents as members of the committee, including Dr. Ofelia Ana Olivero and Dr. Bevin Engelward. Kelly noted that the guidance and insights of Drs. Olivero and Engelward were immeasurably beneficial to her as an emerging leader, setting her on a course that would eventually lead to EMGS council. She stated:

“When I get to pick their brains about things, not just about being an EMGS member, but also career-wise…it’s great as a young scientist, because I have all of these thoughts and ideas, but navigating how I can actually utilize and be effective in my job and in my community…that’s always a balance. Sometimes, it’s like one is overtaking the other, so trying to get that work-life balance as well as community service balance, that really felt good. Bevin and Ofelia give a lot of insight on how to do that.”

In her own mentoring experience, Kelly was able to provide guidance to a postdoc outside of EMGS. She shared that during his fellowship at NCTR where Harris was working, this postdoc approached her with questions, not only on their area of study, but also on how to move forward in the industry. Dr. Harris said:

“Being able to see that…people coming to me to see how they can move forward in science, especially at the finish, whether it’s going into industry or government, sometimes we lose people. And I get it. It’s very long hours, sometimes for very little pay depending on where you are, but it’s good to see that pipeline still going.”

Most recently, Dr. Harris has been working on the CarcSeq assay to identify prominent cancer mutations in different human tissues. Kelly stated that the assay, “gives us a snapshot over time of where those mutations are, how they may develop, and at what age.” Kelly cited this as her first step into applied science, as previously she was more focused in an academic setting. She was very excited to have a hand in a developing study that has the potential for further research and even utilization in future identification of cancers. Dr. Harris said, “I know that something was left behind that I could be proud of.”

Dr. Harris went on to say how her current career path has been influenced by EMGS in both the sciences shared at the annual meeting, and the networking opportunities presented there. On the subject of the society as a whole, she said:

“A lot of people might view it as a little too linear, working with mutations, or it’s all about genotoxicity, but it helps when you’re trying to develop your niche. In the field, when you come to a society where you have so many experts that can guide you on the new technology, that you can directly use…other conferences I’ve gone to, you’re pinpointing a talk here, a talk there, and they might be spaced out a day or two apart. At EMGS, at every talk you can grab something that can help you. Even if it’s not exactly related, there’s always something where you can go, “oh that might actually work for me.” Or you can find a new collaborator! Especially for me, since more young scientists are there, and we’re always trying to find more places where we can collaborate.”

In closing, Dr. Harris had to say:

“Just like any society, nothing is perfect, but I will admit that we have people who are striving for that perfection as far as how the society is represented population-wise, member-wise, and how we are viewed in the scientific community. I believe the society itself takes it very seriously in terms of pushing the sciences, getting people out there, and really being impactful in the scientific community. A lot of societies…I’m not saying they don’t feel that way, but sometimes that message can get lost. I have never, in the six years I have been a member, seen that message get lost in any aspect of the EMGS.”

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