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Rachel D

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill)


Gut Microbiome, Probiotics/Probiotics, Gut Health, General microbiome projects, Molecular Biology or Genetics focused projects


I grew up in Front Royal, a small rural town in the northern part of Virginia. I was recruited to swim at the University of Richmond and that is where I had the opportunity to find my passion for scientific research. Before college I did not have a clear concept of what it meant to “be a scientist”. But with encouragement from a mentor of mine I joined a developmental and evolutionary biology lab in the summer after my second year at Richmond. It was an incredible experience and I have been pursuing a career in science ever since. I have been a part of several research groups including my current research lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I study how consumption of the microbial community found in the fermented tea Kombucha might affect host metabolism and aging. Outside of lab I am involved in several science outreach programs including Women in Science Promoting Inclusion in Research Experiences. In addition to sharing science with my community, I enjoy gardening, art, and listening to audio books.

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.

Does Your Community Consume Probiotics?

Microorganisms, such as bacteria, play an essential role in human health and wellbeing. One community of microbes that is essential to our health is our gut microbiome, which is made up of trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that call our gastrointestinal tract home. These microorganisms perform essential functions that help up stay happy and healthy. Loss of our health gut bacteria can have profound impacts on health and is associated with many disorders from irritable bowel syndrome to depression. Therefore, maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome is crucial to human health. One way to promote a healthy gut microbiome is through the consumption of probiotics, or live microorganisms that are meant to have health benefits when consumed. Probiotics can be found in the form of supplements or in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and Kombucha. However, many people are not aware of the benefits of probiotics or event that they consume them. To determine how aware your community is about the benefits and sources of probiotics available and subsequently provide educational materials, this project involves building, conducting, and sharing the results from a survey assessing community awareness of probiotics. Specifically, you would spend time learning about the gut microbiome and probiotics, build a survey to share with your community, perform data analysis with the results from the survey, and share your findings with your community (e.g. create an infographic or short article to publish in your school newspaper).

Teaching experience

My STEM mentoring experience began when I served as a mentor for the Math Science Investigators Program at the University of Richmond (UR), my undergraduate university. Thought this program I worked with two high school students as they conduced an original research project. Since graduating in 2017 I have continued mentoring students both as a post-baccalaureate researcher at UR and as a current graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). At UNC-CH I have mentored undergraduate students and a post-baccalaureate fellow who has recently been accepted to several PhD programs. I have also found mentoring opportunities outside my lab serving as a mentor and organizer for the Women in Science Promoting Inclusion in Research Experiences program, a six-week-long immersive summer mentorship program that provides cohorts of woman-identifying and non-binary high school students with hands-on experience doing research. I have continued mentoring to my WinSPIRE mentee beyond the program working with her to design and conduct a project in her Advanced Research course at there high school. This Spring I was awarded the 2021-2022 Science Mentoring Award through the Office of Graduate Education at UNC-CH, it was a huge honor that one of my mentees nominated for me for this award.


Work experience

Skin Surgery Center Of Virginia (2017 - 2018)
University of Richmond (2018 - 2019)
Post-Baccalaureate Fellow


University of Richmond
BS Bachelor of Science (2017)
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Genetics and Molecular Biology

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