Army Veteran Microbiologist Adrienne Kambouris

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Name: Adrienne Kambouris

Alma Mater: Augusta University

STEM Career Path: Seeking a PhD in microbial pathogenesis. Plastic surgery with a focus on burns and wound care.

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You have been taught how to be a leader, and those skills translate into and field you want to pursue. Your service is an asset, not a hindrance.

Who/What inspired  you to become interested in microbial pathogenesis? 

AK: When I was in undergrad, I approached it as a stepping stone to medical school. I was determined to be a great med school candidate, so I did all I could to add to my resume: including research. Through my coursework and my undergraduate research project, I fell in love with science. I was encouraged by my PI to pursue an MD/PhD. As I was working on my application, I thought about what I wanted to pursue. I love microorganisms. Whenever I learned about them I was completely fascinated with them. I think that they are the most resourceful and focused organisms on earth. So I wanted to know how they exploited the human body to cause disease. Luckily for me, University of Maryland has an entire department devoted to answering those types of questions.

If you could sit down and have a conversation with one woman in STEM who would it be and why? 

AK: Hands down: Rosalind Franklin. Her story has always resonated with me since I learned about her in my undergrad genetics class. I served in the military for 10 years. As a woman, I had to learn how to navigate a pure male environment: how to be heard, how to be respected, how to be a leader. Rosalind was a brilliant scientist, dedicated to her science. It actually killed her. And to have her life’s work stolen by two men who eventually won the Nobel Prize had to be gut wrenching. I identify with her and I would love to talk to her.

Tell us a little bit about your journey from the army to motherhood and in between.

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AK: I grew up in Baltimore, MD in a single parent household. I was always told that I was smart, that I was going to accomplish great things, but there was no one to put me on the right path. I decided to join the Army because I knew that it was a way to get into college. What I didn’t expect was to serve for 10 years. In that time, I met my husband and had two children. I deployed twice to Iraq for a total of 27 months. My focus was completely on my military career: I had a goal to retire. Everything that I did in the Army was to further that goal. I majored in English to help with my written communication skills. While I didn’t pursue any science while I was in the Army, what I did gain was characteristics needed to survive this journey into medicine. When I separated in 2013 to begin college, I was pregnant with our third child. So I completed my BS as a double major in Cell and Molecular Biology and Chemistry as a mom raising an infant and two preschoolers. 

What struggles had you faced?

AK: My struggle was mostly internal. I questioned my ability to contribute to science as a woman of color. I didn’t have anyone with that perspective in undergrad, and I was also interested in pursuing a subject that was undervalued at the time. When I entered medical school, I felt wholly undeserving of my seat. My journey was unique in my class. How could I survive this process when I had to take such a different path to get there? When my current life situation was so different from everyone else. What helped was focusing on what I had in common with my classmates, seeking mentorship, and having the complete support of my husband. I still struggle with a lot of things, but knowing that I’ve been successful in the past is motivation to keep moving.

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Best Advice You Have Ever Received? 

AK: When I was in the Army, my job was in military intelligence, but my leaders were all former infantrymen. I credit them for teaching me the mentality to be successful. They gave me two pieces of advice. The first: always do more than what is asked. If you’re told to sweep, you sweep and mop. If you’re told to pull weeds, you pull weeds and mow the grass. It taught me about initiative and work ethic. The second thing they told me was,”Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Instead of rushing to get things done, and potentially making mistakes, take your time, do it correctly, and do it once. It also forces me to take a step back and think before pursuing any task or decision.

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What advice would you give to women who are ready to make the transition from serving our country back to civilian life ? 

AK: You’re going to feel different. That’s ok, you ARE different. But you bring something to the table that no one else can: your experience and skill. You have been taught how to be a leader, and those skills translate into and field you want to pursue. Your service is an asset, not a hindrance.

For young women of color that are interested in pursuing microbial pathogenesis how do they get there?

AK: While in college, seek out research projects and mentors. I went to a small institution, so I was able to develop meaningful relationships with my professors. Their mentorship was invaluable. Feel free to take time after graduation to work in industry, do research internships, get a masters: anything that will help you confirm that you want to get your PhD. It’s a long journey and you have to be sure. Finally, when you apply to programs, do a thorough search of the facility and their research interests. Check their funding. One of the main reasons I chose my institution is because they thought about microorganisms the same way I do. On the interview trail, no one was particularly interested in infectious disease; researchers were predominately interested in cancer or metabolic disorders. But I found a well rounded, collaborative institution with common research interests. Make sure you find a place where you will fit.

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Thank You Adrienne For serving our country and being A Science superstar. we salute you!

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