By Emily Wild, For The Miami Student

Throughout her life, first-year Steph Smith has had many ideas as to what career path she might like to pursue.

For a short time, she aspired to be a teacher. Then, her focus shifted toward a potential career as a lawyer. She even considered entomology — a life spent working with bugs.

But during high school, Steph stumbled upon something that put all these thoughts to rest.

Microbes.

From Ebola to E. coli, Steph found her passion among the viruses and bacteria that make most people cringe.

She even has a collection of fuzzy, stuffed microbes — including anthrax, strep, tuberculosis and many more.

When she was 16 years old, Steph and several of her classmates carried out research through the Batelle Memorial Institute, a science and technology development company based in Columbus, Ohio. Her group received national recognition for proposing a logarithmic equation used to determine the age of a person just by looking at their DNA.

“That was like the turning point,” Steph said. “It was just so core to me … it sold me on what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Steph chose to study microbiology at Miami because of the opportunities offered through the microbiology department, especially in undergraduate research.

“Looking at it, there’s a lot of research, a lot of the advisors are great and the coursework is just incredible,” Steph said. “The internships they provide and the career links — it’s amazing.”

She is currently involved in an undergraduate research project concerning bacteriophages — viruses that affect bacteria. Next semester, on top of her 20 credit hours, she hopes to work in a stem cell research lab.

As for a future career, Steph has several ideas.

“Working with Ebola or extreme pathogens like that would be a big thing for me,” Steph said. “Working in the lab and looking at the genetic makeup of it and looking at how to either cure it or use it to our advantage.”

She is also interested in exploring the relationship between climate change and viral outbreaks.

But before she can take on any of these endeavors, she plans on attending graduate school.

“I’m pursuing a Ph.D. so one day it’s not, ‘Stef with an F, or Steph with a P-H?’ It’s Steph with a Ph.D.! That’s like a big motivation for getting a Ph.D.,” she laughs. “Other than my passion for the field, I just want to be able to make that joke so bad!”

Steph is confident in the fact that she has an immense amount of passion for her chosen path, but she certainly does not consider herself an exception because of this.

“I think everyone, when they find the right thing, is passionate about it, and I think everyone has a unique story to tell.”

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