Doctoral candidate: Molecular biology
Expected graduation: 2015 • Hometown: Chicago
A self-described “stem cell guy,” Andrew Volk spends countless hours in the lab as part of his PhD program in molecular biology.
But he also spends plenty of time on outreach to help others understand his research—and hopefully, get them as excited about science as he is. “Science communication and outreach has become something of an obsession of mine,” he says.
Here, he talks about his cancer research, the dangers of academic isolation, and how Loyola’s support system makes for the perfect lab environment.
What’s your favorite Loyola memory?
I had the privilege to watch the Dalai Lama give a talk at Loyola a few years back. When he saw that the moderator was standing off to the side for quite some time, the Dalai Lama scooted over on his chair and offered the other half for the moderator to sit. He then spent the rest of the talk actively engaging him in a way that truly embodied compassion.
Talk a little about a professor or mentor who inspired you.
I've always felt that science is a verb, not a noun. Nobody quite embodies that like my mentor, Jiwang Zhang. He truly lives science all the way from process to completion, and makes me and everyone around him strive to do the same.
Tell us about your research: what it is, how you got involved, and what you hope to accomplish with it.
I'm a stem cell guy. Whether it’s a blood stem cell or a cancerous stem cell, I study how they propagate themselves, maintain their “stemness,” and how they affect normal homeostasis and disease. I found some differences between healthy and malignant blood stem cells, and we’ve had recent success in targeting these differences with experimental drugs to treat some kinds of leukemias from patients right here in the clinic at Loyola.
How has your involvement in student organizations or service work helped shape you as a person?
Science communication and outreach has become something of an obsession of mine. I’ve had a chance to witness the positive power of scientists speaking effectively in unison, but I’ve also had the chance to see the destructive power of scientists not communicating effectively. By getting involved with public science outreach organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Union of Concerned Scientists, I’ve learned how to make my science accessible. If more scientists can do the same and engage the public, then I believe we can start to heal the wounds to our society caused by decades of academic isolation.
What do you think differentiates Loyola from other universities?
I had the chance to interview at several institutions for my doctoral studies. When I came to Loyola, what struck me was how involved the students and faculty are with each other’s success. It’s not about ego at Loyola, but about cooperation and support. This is why I chose to come here for my studies, and why I’d like to continue my career at an academic institution like Loyola.
And finally, what do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?
In 10 years I want to be on my way to having a big lab where I can train students and be involved with getting science out to the public. I hope that my science can impact the health of people with cancer, and I hope that my outreach can reach students and the general public and inspire other people to love science as much as I do.
About the weekend
Five years ago, when Loyola celebrated its first Weekend of Excellence, hundreds of students took part in the three-day event. This year, more than 1,000 students will be featured—and the event will run for four days.
It’s a testament to how far the weekend has come in such a short time.
Created as a way to honor and celebrate student achievements, the Weekend of Excellence showcases the academic, civic, and extracurricular work that Loyola students have conducted over the past year. This year’s weekend, which runs from April 16–19, will include presentations and performances, as well as student award ceremonies and induction into the Maroon & Gold Society.
To accommodate the growing number of participants—and to focus more attention on their work—the undergraduate and graduate research symposiums are now held in two different locations on Saturday, April 18. The Graduate School symposium is in the Quinlan Life Sciences building and Palm Court; the undergraduate symposium is in the Mundelein Center and Galvin Auditorium.