Scholar Spotlight: Melanie McReynolds

Postdoctoral Research Associate
Princeton University

2018 Hanna H. Gray Fellow
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Sloan Scholar PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Penn State University 

Melanie McReynolds was selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as one of 2018’s “15 exceptional early career scientists.” The Hanna Gray Fellowship will fund Dr. McReynolds’ research with an investment of up to $1.4 million over eight years. The 2020 competition is currently open. 

What is your area of research? And, how did you become interested in this research?

Currently, metabolism and aging are my areas of research. I’ve spent the last decade elucidating the biosynthesis and consumption routes for the metabolite NAD, and decline of NAD is associated with aging and disease. I’m a Chemist trained Biologist, so all aspects of metabolism intrigue me. I’ve always been fascinated with the aging process, and I believe it’s imperative to discover mechanisms that will lead to healthier aging.  Uncovering the how and why of metabolic decline during aging is the ideal niche for me as I build my independent career.

Has being a Sloan Scholar and the program’s commitment to diversifying the STEM fields inspired an aspect of your work? How?

Being a Sloan Scholar inspired me to continue on this career path and create a way for the next generation behind me. Being a part of this program, I was able to witness first-hand the importance of tackling the academy and tenure process. Representation matters. Not only is it important for the world to see people like me doing this caliber of research; it’s also imperative for people like me to ask and answer the questions that matter to our communities. Also, diverse people bring diverse perspectives, and perspectives from everyone will really make groundbreaking discoveries. As a Sloan Scholar at Penn State, we were exposed early on to these opportunities, the needs and the joys of pursuing research at this high impact level.

Photo by Selena Rodriguez; Graphic by Beth Post

What is the last Sloan-sponsored event you have attended or what is the next Sloan-sponsored event you will be attending?

The last Sloan-sponsored event I attended was the Academic and Job Market Boot Camp in Atlanta, Ga. Before this event, I attended one of the social networking events held for Sloan Scholars in the New York City area. During this particular meet-up, we had fellowship at the Common Ground followed by private tour of the exhibition, “Programmed: Rules, Codes ad Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018”—at the Whitney Museum of American Art. I really enjoyed the networking event—it was an opportunity to see old friends from graduate school, scholars I’ve met at prior conferences and new faces/scholars as well. What’s most promising are the new connections I’ve gained through this community. Several Sloan Scholars attended both the NYC Networking Event and the Academic Boot Camp—now I feel as if I’ve made forever friends/colleagues through this initiative, i.e. Andrew Jones, who is a new Professor and Sloan Scholar at Northeastern University. Throughout my career, I will always be connected to other Sloan Scholars through SSMN—and this is definitely needed as we maneuver through the academy and tenure.

Photo taken by Selena Rodriguez at the 2019 Academic Job Market Boot Camp

How do you approach mentoring students? How is this different than peer mentoring?

I meet students where they are and offer what they need and/or ask for. This is my form of mentoring. I also serve as a champion and advocate for my mentees, because this was done for me.

As far as peer mentoring, I offer more encouragement, support and understanding through various situations. With my peers, I’m more of a colleague/friend who understands and can offer a listening ear, advice and motivation when needed. However, with mentoring students, more direction and guidance are given along with the encouragement. I try my best not to place my own desires on my students, but offer my students what they may need in those moments.

Who is the mentor in your life—at any point of your education—that has had the most impact on your success, and why?

I’ve had a plethora of mentors over my lifespan that’s truly played a significant part in the trajectory of my career. It’s quite hard to narrow it down to just one individual. But for this occasion, I can discuss two mentors who nurtured me, in different ways, but at the same time. First, Dr. Wendy Hanna-Rose—Professor and Department Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University. Dr. Wendy was my PhD advisor, and took the time to mold me into the Scientist I am today. Dr. Wendy believed in me from the very beginning, and she allowed me to organically grow into the best version of my scientific identity. In addition to this, Dr. Wendy allowed me to freely pursue the random passions and desires that I had. Not that many PhD advisors would allow their graduate students the freedom to be campus leaders, recruiters, mentors, etc.

But Dr. Wendy understood that when I was called, I wanted to answer and be an example to other students of color, that if I made it—they too could make it.

Secondly, my Sloan Advisor—Dr. Stephanie Danette Preston, Associate Dean for Graduate Educational Equity at Penn State molded me into the leader that I am today. Dr. Preston always saw value in my ideas and visions and taught me how to articulate all the wild and extreme ideas I had inside my head. Together, we made real changes at Penn State and built a real community. I remember not receiving the Sloan Scholarship my first year of eligibility, and Dr. Preston fighting for the Match component of our Sloan program so that students like me would not face that situation again. Honestly, Mentors are our Champions. Both of these women served as Champions for me, and made ways for me that I will forever be appreciative for.

Edited by Selena Rodriguez




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