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Getting to Know Donita Brady, PhD

Date Posted: Friday, January 12, 2024

Our guest speaker on January 18, 2024 will be Donita Brady, Associate Professor at University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Donita conducted her PhD studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the Adrienne Cox lab. She then conducted her postdocoral research with Christopher Counter at Duke, before starting her own laboratory in 2015.

The Brady lab has made key discoveries into how metals such as copper play key roles as a modulator of signaling cascades in the context of normal physiology as well as in cancer. 

We asked Donita to answer the following scientific and non-scientific questions:

What is unique about the Brady lab environment such as funny lab traditions?

The Brady lab is truly a work hard, play hard environment where members invest in each other personally and professionally to bring out the best scientist and colleague they can be. We have a few lab traditions around professional milestones and some for pure fun. The first is every member gets a lab coat with their name embroidered and the year they started, and when they leave we have it updated as a memory of their time in The Brady Bunch. To mark thesis defenses, I found a creative artist on Etsy who can craft a picture in which their abstract is in the background and the state of Pennsylvania in copper is placed in the foreground along with their name and the year.  For fun, we do Secret Santa and celebrate birthdays with cakes from Paris Baguette and an annual cookout to bring the team together.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The thing I enjoy most about my job is the people and the places I’ve been exposed to through testing hypotheses in a lab. I don’t think I could have ever dreamed of something more fun to do while helping to invest in the next generation of biomedical scientists.

What keeps you busy outside of work?

My favorite hobbies out of lab are spending quality time with my two-year-old son and my wife Leigh.  I also spend time testing out new BBQ recipes on my Traeger smoker.

What advice would you give to trainees?

The best pieces of advice I can give to trainees are pursue the research questions that keep you up at night, try your best not to play the comparison game because everyone is on their own journey, and keep an open mind on the research questions you’d like to pursue because that’s where the discovery lies.

Which movies & books have you recently enjoyed and/or shows have you binged?

I’m a sucker for cheesy holiday movies and shows during the wintertime. The show I binged most recently and loved was “With Love” on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a one-hour romantic dramedy series centered around a Latinx family and it tracks their love stories over the course of a year and centers around major holidays.

Name one good habit and one bad habit you have?

A good habit is maintaining good time management and a bad habit I have is second guessing myself.

What hidden talent would most people not know about you?

I’m a pretty stellar basketball and softball player. I played Division 1 softball at a small liberal arts college in Virginia.

What do you wish you could do if you had more free time?

I miss being at the bench. Especially moments when you realized you’ve made a new discovery that for the moment you are the only one in the world who knows it.

What is something funny or memorable that happened to you in the lab as a PI or trainee?

When I was a postdoc at Duke University, my advisor at the time Chris Counter asked myself and several colleagues to stay late one day to film a video for the Cancer Center in exchange for dinner. Each of us pretended to do different things like spread bacteria on an LB agar plate or decipher Western blot data. My dear friend, who shall remain nameless, accidentally caught his ethanol on fire while pretending to spread bacteria. By the time a walk from one side of the bench to the other - the flames were super high and completely froze despite standing by the fire extinguisher. My PI came out of nowhere, grabbed a lab coat, put out the fire, and went back to being interviewed as if nothing happened. I will never forget it!