Polypilot product mascot

Introducing PolyPilot:

Our AI-Powered Mentorship Program

Start your trial today

Learn More
profile picture

Jessica K

- Research Program Mentor

PhD at Washington State University


Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Bacteriology, Bacterial genetics and engineering, Microbial pathogenesis, Microbial ecology and evolution, Science communication


I'm an infectious disease microbiologist interested in evolutionary and ecological relationships between gastrointestinal pathogens and their hosts on a molecular scale. During my PhD, I studied how Salmonella co-opts different intracellular niches to grow within the intestinal epithelium and transmit infection. As a postdoc, I now study bacterial and host factors that enable Helicobacter, the causative agent of stomach ulcers and gastric cancer, to colonize microniches deep in the stomach tissue and how this specialized population influences pathology, disease outcomes, and treatment options. Having a life-long background in various painting mediums and graphic design, I spend a lot of my free time in my "backup job". I'm very interested in the interface between art and science, and enjoy approaching scientific communication and education challenges through art and design.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Life finds a way: microbial adaptations

Microorganisms were the first lifeforms on Earth and will exist long after humans are gone. For millions of years these simple lifeforms have adapted to the strangest of environments, from the depths of the ocean floor to your own stomach! To quote one of my favorite movies: “Life finds a way”. In this project, the student will choose any microbe of interest, the weirder the better. We’ll dive through primary literature to learn where it lives and how it has adapted to live there. This gives us clues about the microbe’s evolutionary history, and we can predict how these adaptations may change if we were to alter its environment. For example, many organisms that cause disease normally live in the environment and adapted to live in dirt or plants. Imagine the confusion when they get inside a human: years of evolution shaping the perfect soil dweller did not prepare them for the human body. How do they react to this environment, and how does the microbe’s presence affect its host? In infectious disease microbiology, these adaptations are termed “virulence factors”—they’re the culprit of why a microbe can make us sick, but simply an adaptation the organism uses for survival. We can tailor this project to study any microbe and its virulence factors. The research will primarily come from published literature and cumulate in a short report/review of these microbe-host relationships.

Testing host-microbe interactions

Following a literature review from project 1, we will develop an original scientific proposal based off any hypothesis the student would want to test from their researched microbial adaptations. For instance, our research on an environmental bacteria that causes disease in humans may have uncovered molecular tools the bacteria uses to invade plant tissue, but it’s unknown how they invade human tissue. One might hypothesize that these plant adaptations are being used in the human host. I will guide the student through the scientific method and the current laboratory research techniques we have at our disposal to address the hypothesis. Along the way, the student will become familiar with literature search and review, experimental design, model systems, microbial genetics, and molecular biology.

Languages I know


Teaching experience

I have taught a Microbiology laboratory course at Univeristy of Washington and currently a course facilitator for Medical Microbiology in Stanford University's School of Medicine (microbiology and infectious disease course for medical students).


Work experience

Stanford University (2018 - Current)
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Course Facilitator
Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (2011 - 2013)
Post Bachelors Research Associate. Molecular Toxicology
Seattle Children's Reasearch Institute (2010 - 2011)
Research Assistant
University of Washington (2011 - 2011)
Teaching Assistant


University of Washington
BS Bachelor of Science (2011)
Washington State University
PhD Doctor of Philosophy (2018)
Infectious Diseases

Interested in working with expert mentors like Jessica?

Apply now