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Newsletter Issue 8: Summer 2023

Meet a Master's Student: Nkechinyere Iroanusi

July 21, 2023

Name: Nkechinyere Iroanusi

School of Biological Sciences Laboratory: Associate Teaching Professor Katherine Petrie

Undergraduate Institution: UC San Diego

Nkechinyere Iroanusi

Tell us about your area of focus

My research focuses on how current genetics teaching can inadvertently help foster the ideals of genetic essentialism, which is the belief that “races differ physically, cognitively and behaviorally primarily because they differ in a discrete manner at the genetic level.” Current undergraduate genetics teaching only briefly dives into race and its relevance to certain diseases, instead of focusing on how genetic essentialism is inherently flawed using population and multifactorial genetics findings to understand human diversity and evolution. The goal of my work is to understand how different classes here at UC San Diego teach about race and genetics and assess how the different teaching methods affect the way that students understand and comprehend how genomics can influence race, as measured using quantitative and qualitative survey instruments, in the hopes of changing this way of education in the future.

Why is this important?

While many people believe that race is a social construct, others do not and tend to use science as their proof. However, science, especially genetics, has shown us time and time again that this isn’t true. I believe that educating students on what is correct and giving them the tools that they need to combat these ideas and inform others of the truth is one of the most important things that can be done to help create a more inclusive and equitable world.

How did you get interested in this area?

I got interested in this area after working on a research project with the Black community in San Diego to understand what compassion from their healthcare providers means to them. I heard story after story of Black patients stating that they never had good experiences with healthcare providers because it seemed that their providers were still holding racist ideals against them. I began thinking that maybe there was a lack in how we educate future healthcare workers and medical scientists about race and that using science might be the best way. Luckily enough, that quarter I took BIEB 146 (Genome Diversity and Dynamics) with Dr. Katherine Petrie and gained more knowledge and insight into this topic, as she had a module on race and genomics in her course. I began working as a research assistant in her lab to dive more into her work, which is now becoming part of my master’s thesis.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day for me begins with a morning drive from my house in Chula Vista to UC San Diego. Depending on the day of the week, my routine looks slightly different. I’m a teaching assistant and when my discussion sections are in the morning, I get to start off teaching some of my favorite undergrads. On days that I don’t have discussion sections, I’ll usually head off to my morning classes. I recently took a biostatistics course which has been helpful for me in interpreting my research data and learning how to use the computer program, R. After class, I usually eat lunch with my friends and then I’ll do some research work, like attending lab meetings or working with data on my computer. In the evening, as I’m the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) representative for our program, I attend the biweekly council meetings or any other GPSA social events or programs that I can.

What do you enjoy most about being a master’s student?

One thing I enjoy about being a master’s student is the ability to also be a teaching assistant! I really love working with the students and helping them learn in innovative ways. Additionally, as a graduate teaching assistant, I’ve had the opportunity to use all that I’ve learned so far in my program to help build creative class assignments and curriculum to increase student learning.

What advice do you have for someone starting as a master’s student at UC San Diego?

My piece of advice would be to find a good mentor and support group. Being a master’s student can come with a lot of unknowns and worries, but thanks to my mentor and support group built of friends, it’s been easier for me to adjust to graduate school and thrive as a master’s student. For me, my mentor just happens to be my PI (principal investigator Katherine Petrie), but I think a mentor can come from any place, so be sure to keep your mind open!

What is your favorite type of food?

My favorite type of food would have to be Nigerian food as my family is Nigerian and eating that type of food reminds me of home and loved ones. My favorite Nigerian dish would have to be fufu with okra soup—I literally cannot get enough of it.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I really love audiobooks and podcasts! I started listening to them to make my traffic-filled drives to and from school more interesting. I’m currently listening to Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and it’s pretty good so far!

Newsletter Issue 8: Summer 2023