by Debayudh Chatterjee, Graduate Assistant, HPRC
Meet Elena Wilson–a post-baccalaureate research fellow at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. In addition to a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Elena holds a BA in Germanic Studies. Elena was born in Moscow before she was adopted at one. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois.
Elena spent three weeks in Germany with a friend when she was in high school. The language barrier, as well as the challenge that comes with viscerally experiencing a new culture, prompted her to take up Germanic Studies in college. Apart from communicating with the people in their native tongue, Elena believed that studying German would equip her with an insight on the history and legacy of German culture.
Pursuing a dual degree empowered Elena to critically think in an interdisciplinary way. Her engagement in Molecular and Cellular Biology gave her a keen eye to look at the mechanistic underpinnings of things, while her study of German propelled her to delve into their broader philosophical implications. This combination encouraged her to probe the larger questions of what it means to be human and how that applies to the patient-physician relationship, alongside allowing her to draw parallels between proteins in signaling pathways and the humans in larger societal systems.
Elena acknowledges how the U of I developed her as a person. Whether buying an absurd number of coffees and hunkering down in Espresso Royale for hours at a time, or attending a sports game, she remembers how she was surrounded by so many motivated and inspiring people. Constant exposure to such a diverse crowd helped her learn new things and pushed her improve. She came to embrace her kaleidoscopic interests and understood what it is to value and seek out new experiences.
Elena is passionate about volunteering and is involved in several projects currently. She mentors and tutors a refugee from Syria in English with Station Wien, an organization based in Vienna, Austria. She is also working with young professionals in the DC area on two programs focused on engaging the DC community: the DC Ward 8 Health and Wellness Initiative which cpmmects members of DCs Ward 8 with health and wellness resources to combat diet driven disease, and a Nutrition Education Program that aims to teach nutrition and encourage healthy eating, even on a budget.
Elena works in an immunology lab now. Her project focuses on understanding actin reorganization in the context of T-cell activation. Elena’s advises current students to take advantage of all of the resources UIUC has to offer: “enjoy every minute of your time on campus.”