Dr. Kelly Harrison (‘2010, second from left in the front row) with her lab group at the University of Kansas.
Following graduation with a degree in biology from Ashland University in 2010, Dr. Kelly Harrison started her journey toward her Ph.D. by working as a research technician in Dr. Harry Kestler’s lab at Lorain County Community College, looking at the CCR5 cell receptor and the ability of HIV to infect cells. She entered the Micro/molecular genetics doctoral program at Oklahoma State University in the fall of 2012, initially studying virulence factors from Salmonella and Shigella as broadly protective vaccines against enteric pathogens.
In her first class on first day of her Ph.D. studies a professor came in to speak about "how to be successful" and told the class that the only thing important in grad school was not brains or talent or whatever, but GRIT. Kelly writes, "It’s so true. A river cuts through rock not because of it's power but because of its persistence!" Little did she know how much persistence would be required of her to finish her Ph.D. program.
The first challenge occurred in 2014 when she transferred to the University of Kansas with her advisors to continue her research. While at KU, she was selected as an ASM (American Society of Microbiology) Teaching fellow for the following year and, in February 2015, was selected to present her research with Salmonella vaccines in cattle to the State Senate and Governor (and won the Capital Graduate and BioKansas research summit).
Kelly completed her Ph.D. with Dr. P. Scott Hefty of KU, working on genetic manipulation systems in Chlamydia. However five months into her research with Dr. Hefty, Kelly was visiting her family for homecoming at Oklahoma State and was one of the victims in the crash caused by a driver who drove into the crowd watching the homecoming parade. She was severely injured, and was life-flighted to Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City, where she underwent multiple surgeries and a blood transfusion. After extensive rehab and while continuing physical therapy, she returned to the lab in March 2016. She won the ASM Regional meeting Poster presentation on her first day back, and defended her dissertation (“Discovery of Genetic Correlates Important for Chlamydia Infection and Pathogenesis”) in July of last year.
Dr. Harrison is currently working as a post-doc back at Oklahoma State University, studying the host-pathogen interactions of the Herpes Simplex 1 virus. She writes that she discovered her love for microbiology and immunology during her studies at Ashland, and because of her experiences here hopes to teach and do research at a small, private university. Kelly states, “The interactions between professors and students are so much more significant when class sizes are smaller and those interactions are what really shape student's lives.” Reflecting on her journey, she writes that “I think the best advice I could give would be to never give up. Even with a number of obstacles (moving states, switching labs, the crash) I still managed to get done in 5 years solely because I'm stubborn and refused to give up. I had every excuse to and no one would blame me. But you can't give up so easily.”