Caitlin Moss ’13, who majored in biochemistry and molecular biology at Gettysburg College, is nearing the completion of her PhD in microbiology from the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—proudly earning it from one of the most prestigious research programs in the world.
Throughout her life, Moss has always been curious about how things work and often finds herself asking, “Why are things the way they are?” To her, science is like a puzzle—an eagerly welcomed challenge. At Gettysburg, the diverse co-curricular experiences offered as part of our liberal arts and sciences education gave her many opportunities to follow this thread of curiosity and unearth her passions.
Combining the arts and sciences, she was an active member of the Sunderman Conservatory of Music’s Bullets Marching Band and Symphony Band, which led to the development of many lasting friendships. Through the Center for Global Education, she also studied globally in South Africa for a semester, where she not only took science classes but also linguistics and anthropology. She cherishes all of these experiences, noting them as fond and foundational. However, it was the student-faculty research opportunities in the lab that piqued her interest the most.
Early in her studies at Gettysburg, Moss remembers taking genetics and cell biology labs with her advisor, Biology Department Chairperson and Prof. Kazuo Hiraizumi, and enjoying the hands-on learning environment that the labs fostered. After those classes with Hiraizumi, she found herself in labs with frequency throughout the remainder of her four years.
“I felt at home when I was in the lab,” Moss said.
During her senior year, she completed her senior capstone in Biology Prof. Steve James’ genetics lab, where she spent the semester learning how to genetically manipulate the fungus Aspergillus nidulans in such a way that a cell-cycle regulating protein of interest could be purified for biochemical studies. Moss looks back on this work as one of her proudest undergraduate moments.
“My capstone was a really amazing experience—to see a research project through from conception to completion,” said Moss, who enjoyed it so much that later in her senior year she became a research assistant in James’ fungi lab. “It gave me a bit of a sneak peek of what it would be like to work in a lab full-time.”
After graduating from Gettysburg College, she spent several years as a research laboratory technician at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School before pursuing postgraduate studies.
“I already knew a lot of the basic skills that I needed from working in James’ lab, and that set me up to be successful as a lab technician,” Moss said. “When I decided to head into graduate school, my foundational Gettysburg College experience, coupled with the research I did during and after my undergrad, equipped me with all I needed to hit the ground running.”
At Yale, she has spent the majority of her time researching. Specifically, Moss has been studying Legionella bacteria, which can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease.
“I work with that bacterium and try to figure out how it’s able to subvert host immune mechanisms to live and grow inside of the immune cells in our lungs,” she said. “I always thought it was super interesting how bacteria are able to evolve and figure out crazy tricks for how to get around immune systems.”
Graduating next academic year, Moss is looking onward to the possibilities of the future with excitement and a deep sense of purpose. She knows research—a joy to which Gettysburg College first introduced her—will remain a constant in her professional life. Moss aspires to be a scientist for a leading company or the government in the near-term, and maybe even one day passing her wisdom on as a professor, as her Gettysburg professors did for her.
“Take advantage of all the opportunities you have at a place like Gettysburg. There are endless things you can get your hands into, and it’s a perfect place to try a bunch of things and find your passion,” Moss said. “I definitely did.”
Learn more about Gettysburg College’s biochemistry and molecular biology major, which emphasizes independent student research and one-on-one collaboration with faculty members.
By Molly Foster
Photos courtesy of Caitlin Moss ’13