KUH PRIME BannerNovember 29, 2022
Moronge Desmond
Desmond Moronge
4th Year PhD Scholar - Augusta University
Mentors: Dr. Jessica Faulkner (Primary) and Dr. Jennifer Sullivan 

Q. Do you have any experiences, interests, or passions that have shaped you as a researcher?

A. I am a trained pharmacist originally from Kenya. Upon completing pharmacy school and during my working experience in the pharmacy setup, I became curious about the many unanswered scientific questions. For example, I became particularly interested on how the chronic use of some antivirals and some antimicrobials would have on the kidney later in the patient’s life. Such intriguing questions got me interested in life as a researcher and with that curiosity, I did apply to different graduate programs here in the US to be able to gain the very much needed skills and techniques to answer different scientific questions. 

Q. What do you hope to achieve with your current research? How did you come to specialize in your field of research?

A. The implications of my current research is to create awareness that people who already have kidney disease and are seeking pregnancy need to be aware of their kidney function. Currently, prior kidney injury is not recognized as a risk factor for obstetric complications, but evidence now shows that there is an increased risk for various pregnancy disordersA kidney injury either prior to a pregnancy or during the pregnancy increases the risk for adverse maternal and fetal outcomes. A recently performed large clinical study of >10,000 deliveries indicated that a history of AKI prior to pregnancy increases the risk of preeclampsia, cesarean delivery, stillbirth and NICU admission. I became specialized in my field of research through my mentors, Drs. Jessica Faulkner and Jennifer Sullivan. Dr. Jessica Faulkner, my primary advisor, has vast experience in vascular physiology and pregnancy related disorders such as preeclampsia while Dr. Sullivan is experienced in sex differences in hypertension and acute kidney injury. Therefore, through their mentorship I get to learn more each passing day regarding acute kidney injury and pregnancy. 

Q. What advice would you give to undergraduate students who want to get more experience with research?

A. My advice to undergraduate students who want to get more experience with research is to volunteer in different labs when any chance avails itself for more exposure. Through exposure, one slowly finds research areas that are interesting and exciting. Do not narrow your choices so quickly to avoid being limited. 

Q. What is one thing you wish you could tell your younger self about academia/research/life in general?

A. Try to enjoy each task and remember that success in research takes time. Progress maybe slow, tedious, and frustrating but it will be rewarding at the end. Take advantage of every opportunities for growth whether through collaborations or professional courses. 

Q. What thought/philosophy/principle has helped you during difficult times?

A. Whenever I have difficult times, remember to ask for help and talk to someone. I try to remember that I am not alone in this and the best science is team science. Take as many breaks as you need to keep you going. 

September 27, 2022 

Kylie Heitman 1
Kylie Heitman
NIH F31 NRSA Fellow

5th Year Graduate Student - University of Alabama at Birmingham
Mentor: Dr. Christian Faul 

Q: In your bio under the Christian Faul Lab, I thought it was really interesting that your love of horses has impacted you as a scientist! I would love to hear more about this, including any other experiences, interests, or passions that have shaped you as a researcher.
A. In my personal statement to every graduate school, and even on my F31 grant submission, I talk about horses (self-proclaimed #horsegirl) because they introduced me to critical thinking.  In fact, at my undergraduate college, I was able to base my research project on lavender aromatherapy to reduce stress in trailered horses, which was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Medicine. I've had incredible opportunities to train with and work for Olympic dressage athletes in Florida, Maryland, my home state Michigan, and Canada. I even brought my horse with me to grad school and made time to ride 5x/week, which has proved to be a fabulous outlet that I hope to continue more seriously after I graduate. 

Q: In that same vein, I’d love to know more about your time in Galapagos. How did the things you learned/things you experienced there translate to the research you do at UAB?
A: A few months ago, I scored dirt cheap tickets to Quito Ecuador ($250!!), and over Labor Day weekend, my classmate Natalie and I went to visit for 3 full days. Our first day was spent in the countryside at Quilotoa, a crater lake. On our second day, we caught a 2.5h plane ride over to the Galápagos Islands. There are 13 main islands, and unfortunately, we were only there for 22 hours, which limited us to exploring Santa Cruz Island which houses the Charles Darwin Research Station. Despite our limited time, we visited reserva el chato - a giant tour ticket sanctuary, lava caves, a small beach, and window shopped in the Santa Cruz downtown. We saw a variety of animals including black noddys, blue footed boobies, a white checkered pintail, and a seal. I would not recommend going to the Galapagos for 22h - the islands need at least 5 full days of your time. Once we arrived back in mainland Ecuador, we did a walking tour of Quito, went chocolate tasting, and did a little shopping, before our flight back to the United States.  My time in Ecuador and the Galapagos made me thankful for my boss, Christian Faul, who understands the importance of a work-life balance. Fortunately, I didn't think about my research during this trip, I just enjoyed immersing myself in a new culture. 


Q: What do you hope to achieve with your current research? How did you come to specialize in this field of research?

A: With my current research, I hope to draw a clearer connection between Chronic Kidney Disease and how CKD creates an environment where skeletal muscles become weak, and specifically how the skeletal muscles react and regulate phosphate and fibroblast growth factor 23. Christian suggested going after the skeletal muscles because our lab has studied and seen that the heart/cardiac muscle shows a strong phenotype in end stage renal disease, and skeletal muscle is a close cousin of cardiac muscle. 

Q: What advice would you give to undergraduate students who want to get more experience with research?

A: My advice for undergraduate students who might be interested in research, is to find many PI's whose research is a little bit interesting, email them saying you're interested in their research, ask if they are looking for undergraduate volunteers, and attach your resume. This takes courage, but rarely do research opportunities fall into one's lap. 

Q: What is one thing you wish you could tell your younger self about academia/research/life in general?

A: One thing no one told me about research is that it is 50% politics, 50% science. It's not always about the coolest discoveries, or the best experiment, it's about convincing others why they should care. Making and maintaining connections is imperative for a prolonged career in research.

Q: What thought/philosophy/principle has helped you during difficult times?

A: When I have a bad day, I'll go for a run, I'll talk to my supportive, kind, and witty lab mates and friends. 

Short Bio: 

Kylie is a 5th year graduate student in the Graduate Biomedical Science program at UAB. She is in the lab of Dr. Christian Faul and studies mineral metabolism in the context of Chronic Kidney Disease. She enjoys traveling, running long distances, going to the cinema, her horse, and Taylor Swift. 

Interviewer: Cheyenne Hollowell, Senior UAB