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Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Haley Barlow

Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Dr. Haley Rose Barlow on a beach on Puerto Rico (her post-PhD vacation). 

This month, Haley Barlow sat down with herself (Haley Barlow, @hayrose12). 


Diversity Profile of the Month!

Haley Barlow is one of our department’s new Senior Program Managers of Outreach. A native Texan, Haley comes to us after finishing up her PhD training at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX. Her thesis work focused on understanding how cells move apical proteins around during pancreatic organogenesis in mouse embryos. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where she studied the role of inflammatory signaling molecules in zebrafish retinal regeneration. She and her goldendoodle Ted moved to Massachusetts to join our department, and so far they’ve been adjusting well to the winter climate. She claims that Notre Dame had its coldest winter in 100 years while she was there, so she was emotionally prepared for much more severe weather. Let’s learn more about one of our newest department members!

What set you on the trajectory of becoming a science communicator? 

My classic science story is that I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid, and learning about mendelian genetics and evolution got me really excited about science in general. When I was choosing a major in college, I essentially flipped a coin between English and Biology (my parents were both English majors, so I assumed that was the ideal life path at the time). Looking back on those choices, I’ve clearly always had a passion for communicating. While studying at Notre Dame, I fell in love with biology and with research, which led me to graduate school.  

I went to grad school with the intention of becoming a PI. I loved to talk about science, write about science, give talks, go to conferences, write grants, problem solve, come up with new ideas…so being a PI seemed like the perfect fit! However, as grad school went on, I realized that I wanted something different for myself than the lifestyle required to be classically successful in academic science. Someone said to me “You know, you can start doing the things you like about science (i.e. the communication parts) without putting yourself through another 10 years of misery at the bench doing a postdoc and starting a lab,” and that revelation is what shot me out of the lab and into the science communication field.  

What setbacks have you faced on your journey so far, and how did you overcome them? 

I had a very difficult time with my mental health while I was in graduate school. I’ve had generalized anxiety disorder since I was about 9 years old, but I had muscled through it for the whole rest of my life, so I planned to do the same in grad school. 

I had two serious breaking points during grad school – one that was anxiety-driven and seriously affected my physical health, and another that was depression-driven. The short version of the story is that I got on daily medication for my anxiety, then added some medication for depression, and learned to communicate more clearly with my PI (read: crying in her office) so that I could let her know when I was having bad days. And somehow, with the love and support of a lot of people, I got through it! 

People are asking me now how I’m doing with the move, the new job, etc., and honestly I feel so much better than I did the for last five+ years. Even on rougher days here where I’m still adjusting to everything, I feel a hundred times better than I did even when my experiments were going well in grad school (which was not the majority of the time, let me tell you what).   

Haley Barlow pancreas data
This image is from the first time an experiment for my thesis project had worked in THREE YEARS. I then pretty much pulled together my entire body of work in the last six months of my PhD. Image is a wild-type embryonic day 14.5 pancreas. Magenta = epithelial cell borders; yellow = lumen; cyan = endocrine cells.

Mental health advocacy is very important to me: I co-chaired the Wellness Committee for the grad students and postdocs at UT Southwestern for most of my time there, and I have a (lapsed) certification in adult mental health first aid. If you ever need someone to talk to, I’m more than happy to be that non-judgemental listening ear. I can also share more of my personal journey with those who are interested. Talking about mental health is essential to building an environment where everyone can achieve their own definition of success.  

How would you spend your time if you never had to work again in your life? 

I would breed and train dogs, and I would have a humongous garden. Like a truly ridiculous garden – however big you’re envisioning it, it’s not big enough. 

Haley Barlow and Ted
Me and my dog Ted when he was a puppy. 

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? 

Verona, Italy. I minored in Italian in college and studied abroad in Rome for a semester. When I visited Verona, I could see myself living there before I even got off the bus. It was this unique spiritual connection with a place that I’ll hopefully get to act on someday!  

A picture of Verona from when I visited in 2016.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil? 

I never thought I’d say this, but a toaster oven! I always thought they were redundant, like…you have a toaster, you have an oven, you even have a microwave – why do you need a toaster oven?? But during grad school I ate almost exclusively frozen food from Trader Joes and I quickly learned the immense value of a toaster oven for heating things up quickly and keeping them crispy.