Allison Nash '17

A Sophomore Year Fellowship, a Faculty Mentor and a Promising Research Career
UNH Alumni Allison Nash '17

Allison Nash graduated from UNH in 2017 with a degree in neuroscience and behavior. A Stratham, NH native, Nash is now a research associate at Sana Biotechnology in Cambridge, Mass. Her interest in neuroscience and regenerative biology research has its roots in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) she won with the help of her advisor Win Watson, now professor emeritus of zoology, and the subsequent years she spend working in his lab.

COLSA: What are you doing now?

Allison Nash: After graduating from UNH, I accepted a joint position at Harvard University and the Broad Institute. There, I worked on developing a reproducible protocol for generating 3D cerebral organoids [tiny, self-organized three-dimensional tissue cultures that are derived from stem cells], which resulted in a recent publication in Nature.

I have since accepted a research associate position at Sana Biotechnology, a start-up cell and gene therapy company in Cambridge, MA. My team and I are engineering cells that we hope can be delivered as medicine to patients suffering from debilitating diseases.

COLSA: How did your time at UNH prepare you for where you are today?

Nash: UNH offers several programs to help students acquire hands-on experience in their area of study. For me, this experience started my sophomore year at UNH when I began working for my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Win Watson. He helped me write a project proposal so that I could apply for a SURF through the Hamel Center. Thankfully, I was awarded the fellowship and able to spend the summer and the remainder of my time at UNH studying marine neurobiology in Dr. Watson's lab. Working in the lab proved to be a fun, rewarding experience that fueled my interest in the fields of neuroscience and regenerative biology.

By the time I graduated, I had three years of research experience as well as a few excellent professional references. These elements greatly supported my application to work at Harvard University, which subsequently helped me get to where I am today.

COLSA: Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10?

Nash: It is difficult for me to predict exactly where I will be in the future, but I expect that my love of science will keep me in the field for some time. In general, I hope to spend time traveling abroad and potentially pursuing graduate education in the form of a master’s or PhD. Whether I focus my studies on the therapeutic potential of stem cells or the regenerative capability of marine nervous tissue, only time will tell!

COLSA: What do you know now that you wish you'd known while an undergrad?

Nash: I had a full schedule as a pre-med student starting out, so I worried about time-management and spent most of my freshman year focused on classes. Looking back, I would have told myself not to worry so much and tried to fit in a minor in chemistry and/or studio arts to diversify my course load. I also wish I had fit in a study abroad!

"When I started college, I remember feeling like I knew nothing about the subject I was trying to study and there were so many people smarter than me. Today, that is still the case. The difference now is that I realize there will always be someone smarter or better at something than I am, but that doesn't mean I don't belong in the field."

COLSA: What person or course most influenced you while at UNH? How?

Nash: Prof. Watson acted as both my academic and research advisor at UNH, but he turned out to be a wonderful mentor as well. Win's jovial, laid-back nature made him easy to get along with and his enthusiasm for marine biology research was infectious. Research can be a lot of fun, but it can also be extremely frustrating at times. Despite this, Win always kept a positive attitude and encouraged us to learn from the data, regardless of whether the experiment went as planned.

I started spending my free time outside of classes in his lab and quickly realized that I wanted to pursue scientific research post-graduation, rather than a career as a medical professional. The experience overall was invaluable, and I am thankful to still have him as a mentor and a friend.

COLSA: What was the best/most memorable course you took at UNH and why?

Nash: Molecular and Cellular Biology (BIOL 411H) with Dr. Charles Walker was one of my favorite courses at UNH. Dr. Walker's approach to teaching was different than most other professors because he never used PowerPoint presentations. Rather, he would draw complex biochemical pathways and cellular processes on the board, explaining as he went and moving at the same pace as his students.

Dr. Walker always made himself available to students and took time out of his day to get to know us. I remember missing one of his classes and going to see him to ask questions; he ended up spending an hour going through the entire lecture with me just so I could get up to speed. He later asked me if I was interested in research, and when I told him I was intrigued by neuroscience, he walked me straight to Dr. Watson's office and introduced me. It was thanks to his comprehensive teaching style and personal investment in his students that I began pursuing research.

COLSA: What advice do you have for students interested in your field?

Nash: Ask questions! When I started college, I remember feeling like I knew nothing about the subject I was trying to study and there were so many people smarter than me. Today, that is still the case. The difference now is that I realize there will always be someone smarter or better at something than I am, but that doesn't mean I don't belong in the field. What matters is what I learn from them and, potentially, what they learn from me.

I have had my fair share of mistakes and embarrassments, but to paraphrase a Chinese proverb, I would rather feel like a fool for a moment, than remain a fool forever. So even if you think your question is stupid or too basic to ask, ask it anyway. Who knows, you might even be the one to stump the professor.

COLSA: What do you miss most about UNH?

Nash: I miss UNH’s atmosphere the most. Living on campus, attending classes, working, and conducting research was a lot to handle at times, but there were always great people to help along the way. I loved engaging in interesting conversations with classmates and professors, hanging out with friends around campus, and spending too much time in the Breaking New Grounds coffee shop.

COLSA: Please tell us one unique or remarkable thing about yourself.

Nash: I am a very visual, hands-on learner so I tend to spend time drawing and trying out various art projects. I also enjoy illustrating scientific processes to better understand them. I think science and creativity go hand-in-hand and drawing for me is just one way of showing that.

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