Interview with Dr. Kelly Mouapi-Davis

By Awanto Margaret - February 27, 2019

Today's interview is with one of the smartest people I know, my childhood friend Dr. Kelly Mouapi-Davis. She received her BA in Chemistry (cum laude) with a minor in Spanish from Berea College in 2012 and then obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Louisville in 2017. For her dissertation, she used a combination of mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy to elucidate the mechanisms utilized by two important proteins, Fibrinogen and Factor XIII, involved in the formation of stable blood clots. She has presented her research at several national and international conferences and was awarded a Young Investigator award at the International Fibrinogen Workshop. Her current research focuses on remote microsampling coupled to targeted MRM mass spectrometry was recently selected for a talk at the International Human Proteome Organization on targeting Women’s Health. She has authored and co-authored several peer-reviewed publications. She is currently an NIH T32 Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Smidt Heart Institute, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA. At the Advanced Clinical BioSystems Institute, Dr. Mouapi-Davis designs and applies targeted mass spectrometry-based assays that combine proteomics and lipidomics for biomarker discovery and early prediction of cardiovascular disease in women. 

What was the Journey to your career in STEM?
As a child, I was always fascinated by nature and tried to understand why things looked and worked the way they did. Things as simple as how plants leaves were green and sometimes brown, would spark my interest. I found most answers to my questions in my science classes especially biology, chemistry, and physics. This was the start of my journey in Cameroon. Years later, I lost my role model and aunt to a heart attack and this initiated my quest for answers. I was determined to go to medical school in search of these answers until I was introduced to scientific and biomedical research in college (Berea College).

How did you choose your career path?
I choose Chemistry as a major in college with a minor in Spanish because chemistry provided the answers I needed and I always wanted to learn Spanish. Every summer as an undergraduate student, I was involved in summer research and realized I enjoyed research directly related to a disease pathway. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center I was involved in cancer-related research, and at Mayo Clinic. I was involved in rheumatoid arthritis research. During these internships and in college, I built a strong network of mentors who encouraged me to follow my passion. This led me to pursue my PhD in Chemistry (University of Louisville) in an area directly related to heart disease, and subsequently to my current position as a Research Fellow in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

What's a day in Kelly's Life like?
Life as a researcher is a very exciting path. Every day is unique and tailored towards achieving a common goal. Most days I am in the lab developing and optimizing a new experimental approach or running an already-optimized experiment. Other days I am on my desk analyzing large data sets or writing manuscripts. Some days, I am in meetings with collaborators or group members planning and strategizing our next steps. About twice a year, I spend days in scientific conferences sharing our research findings and learning from other researchers in the field. No two days are ever alike and this is what makes it even more exciting for me

What is the challenging thing about being a minority in stem if any and how you overcome it?
The most challenging thing about being a minority, and most especially a double minority, is being the only one in the room in spaces where exciting science is happening. I have found myself in conferences with hundreds of people where I can literally count the number of people who look like me. It is isolating and sometimes discouraging. How I overcome it is to have an inner self-talk reminding myself that there is a reason I am in these spaces and it is my responsibility to make sure other people like me know of these spaces and become a part of such opportunities. I share resources with others who can benefit from what I know and also mentor the younger STEM generations who are following our footsteps closely.

If you were to meet your younger self, what advice would you give to her? 
Dear Younger Me, enjoy every step of the journey and, don’t be so hard on yourself. Build memories with friends and family along the way and do not sacrifice quality time with loved ones, this will keep you moving when the journey gets tough. But most importantly, take time for yourself and take great care of all aspects of your self-care. You will need it!

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