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Shaylyn C

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of Virginia


Developmental biology, cell biology, developmental neuroscience, sensory neuroscience, hearing development, hearing loss, psychology of music, societal importance of music, medicine, LGBTQ public health issues, healthcare access issues


I am currently a fifth year PhD candidate in Dr. Xiaowei Lu’s lab in the department of Cell Biology at the University of Virginia. Our lab studies the development of the auditory system in a mouse model. My research focuses on understanding what guides type II spiral ganglion neuron axons to find their targets in the cochlea. Overall, I hope my research will lead to a better understanding of auditory development and general axon guidance mechanisms. Outside of lab, I am co-founder of Queer in Medical Sciences at UVA, music director for a STEM graduate student a cappella group, and a volunteer copy editor and reviewer for the Journal of Emerging Investigators. I am passionate about making science into a more inclusive and equitable space and showing kids and young adults that they can be themselves and still be a scientist. In my free time, I love to knit and hang out with my very round cat named Cookie!

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.

Can you believe your eyes?

Conduct a study about how our eyesight affects our sense of taste! Ask friends and family members to tell you the flavor of different Jell-o (or another treat!) while blindfolded, and again when you dye the Jell-o different colors. Put together a manuscript to submit to a middle/high school journal.

Memory and music

Write a review on how music affects our memory. Read studies done by neuroscientists about music and memory, and then compile them into a review article to submit to a middle/high school journal.

Can yeast tell the difference between real and fake sugar?

Can yeast reproduce in sugar substitutes? Let's find out! We can determine the amount of yeast reproduction by measuring CO2 output and see if fake sugars stack up to the real thing. Then, we can look at the molecules that make up the sugar substitutes and learn how the body would break them down. We can even find out which artificial sweetener tastes the sweetest by testing out what concentration it takes for someone to taste the sweetness and see if the sweetness correlates to the amount of yeast reproduction. Once the experiments are complete, we can write an article for a middle/high school journal detailing your results!

Henrietta Lacks: The ethics, history, and impact of HeLa cells

Have you ever heard of HeLa cells? They are a very commonly used cell line in science labs all over the world. Huge discoveries have been made that likely would not have been possible without these "immortal" cells. But they have a dark past...the original HeLa cells were taken from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks (HeLa) in 1951 without her knowledge, consent, or compensation. In this project, we will explore the biology and history of HeLa cells and read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. You can then create a podcast (or other form of media) to educate scientists about the woman behind HeLa cells, the ethical dilemma around their existence, and the impact Henrietta's cells have had on the field. (Photo credit: Lacks family)

Coding skills

Basic R

Teaching experience

I have mentored undergraduate student researchers in our lab for several years where I teach them lab skills, scientific reasoning and experimental design, and scientific writing and presentation. Currently, I am mentoring three undergraduate students, one of which is pursuing a Distinguished Major Thesis on his research. I also have been a teaching assistant for a graduate-level biomedical sciences course for three years. Additionally, I am a copy editor and scientific reviewer for the Journal of Emerging Investigators, a scientific journal and mentorship program for middle and high school students.



University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill)
BS Bachelor of Science (2019)
Biology, minors in chemistry and neuroscience
University of Virginia
MS Master of Science (2021)
Biological and Physical Sciences
University of Virginia
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Cell and Developmental Biology

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