Jackie Phan describes herself as “UNLV grown.” As she currently works on her fourth degree from the university, a Ph.D. in biochemistry, her roots at UNLV have never been stronger.
Phan started her UNLV journey as an undergraduate where her mentor, biochemistry professor Ernesto Abel-Santos, encouraged her to pursue her passion for research.
“I joined Dr. Abel-Santos’s lab to assist in animal research and fell in love with our mission to combat infectious diseases by learning many new laboratory techniques.”
Now as a graduate student, Phan said, “I feel very supported and have found that there are many programs at UNLV designed to help graduate students succeed. By looking at resources and putting myself out there at events, I’ve met many inspiring people and created many lasting bonds.”
One such event was this year's Inspiration, Innovation, Impact: A Celebration of Graduate Student Research event, hosted by the Graduate College.
Phan’s research focuses on Clostridioides difficile Infection (CDI), a bacterial infection she compares to “a Trojan horse” that “hatches into toxic-producing cells once they make their way to a favorable environment such as our guts.”
“Similar to current approaches with COVID-19, our goal focuses on methods of prevention,” Phan explained. “My research aims to produce synthetic compounds that resemble compounds we have naturally in healthy individuals that can act as prophylactic drugs to help protect individuals against CDI.”
When it comes to research, Phan’s mantra is: “Success is 99 percent failure.”
“One of the great surprises about scientific research is that you sometimes discover new and unexpected findings through failed attempts which lead to even more new research.”
The unexpected has been a theme of everyone’s past year, but especially for Phan.
“During the pandemic, I had a new baby born three months early. It has been especially trying to manage graduate school responsibilities as well as tending to her special preemie needs.”
Phan says that parenthood is both her “biggest motivation and also biggest challenge.”
“Every day is a juggling act. Almost every day, I look back on the previous day and wonder how I made it through. Nevertheless, I want to inspire my kids to work hard toward their goals no matter their situation, and I also want to show other parents that it’s not too late to follow your dreams!” Phan said.
Always looking for ways to inspire a new generation of scientists, Phan has used her position as president of the UNLV American Society for Microbiology Student Chapter to reach out to local elementary schools where the group teaches students about microbiology.
Although much has changed since Phan first set foot on campus as an undergraduate, one thing that’s never wavered is her passion for learning.
“Since I was a kid, I loved learning about the human body and diseases. My specific program has allowed me to combine my fascination for both these subjects.”