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Polygence Mentor Austin Helps Students Take a Good Look at Our Daily Dose of Chemicals

NewsZoe Wallace

Austin is a Cornell PhD candidate in toxicology on a mission to make science more approachable, attractive, and enjoyable to the masses! In fact, this is the attitude Austin hopes to offer his mentees as they dive into the magical world of genomics and microscopy. Not only is Austin here to make science more accessible, but his fun-loving personality and genuine passion for what he does makes him a top-tier mentor!

In the lab, Austin isn’t simply refilming Nemo with zebrafish, he’s actually working to make consumer products safer for their, well, consumers. He starts by taking chemicals humans often find in their day-to-day lives (i.e. Parabens) and injects them into fish. Then, he proceeds to use calcium imaging as a way to analyze the long-term effects on the fish’s neurons. By studying the effects of a chemical through small but constant doses overtime, Austin can help determine exactly which chemicals are safe to be in our daily products, and which ones the FDA should write off.

Woman in a shop with a jar of mayonese

As a Polygence mentor, Austin guides students through their own studies of the neuro-endocrine system and all its power over body regulation and composition. So far, he has worked one-on-one with a student who conducted a meta-analysis on the quantitative power of circulating catecholamines (think dopamine, norepinephrine, etc.) in diagnosing anxiety. One thing he loves about Polygence is the immense drive and passion our students have. Austin still laughs at how one of his students was so determined to stay on schedule, the two had a full on Zoom meeting in a car as she traveled.

Even before Polygence, Austin had a love for teaching! From being a highly recommended tutor during his undergrad to teaching high school biology in graduate school, this lively toxicologist has always been motivated to share his knowledge! His favorite part of it all? Giving special tips and tricks that you just can't learn through traditional academia. No class teaches you how to communicate with a professor or even how to land an undergraduate research position. Yet, getting to know someone in the industry, who has walked a similar path to you, can help shed some light on an otherwise dark and twisty road.

When asked about his own experience with the program, Austin said, “I thought Polygence was a scam since it seemed too good to be true. Six months in and I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop.” He hopes that Polygence students feel just as fulfilled as he does, and that they can walk away from the program with increased confidence, excitement, and curiosity for their respective fields!

High school mentor teaches toxicology