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Alexa J

- Research Program Mentor

MA at Harvard University


infectious diseases (esp. tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS), diagnostics (e.g. COVID, breast cancer, tuberculosis), bioanalytical chemistry, single molecule techniques, other topics in biochemical/biomedical research, chemistry related to the ocean


Hi, I'm Alexa! I love chemistry, teaching, and applying chemistry to biological problems. Since graduating from college with a degree in chemistry, I've spent 6 years in the lab, working on projects related to understanding drug-resistant tuberculosis (for this one I lived in Durban, South Africa, for a year!), the human epigenetic enzymes histone deacetylase 1 and 2, and making an improved breast cancer diagnostic. I've even worked the overnight shift processing molecular COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Along the way, I discovered my love for teaching as a peer tutor in college and a teaching assistant in graduate school, and that led me to spend a year and a half teaching full-time, first as a high school teacher and then as a college professor. Outside of the lab and classroom, I enjoy using chemistry to cook and bake delicious, healthy food for myself and my friends. A few of my friends and I even organized a science and cooking competition for graduate students! I love staying active by swimming, dancing, and working out with my all-women's kickboxing fitness group. I'm also a music lover and a dog lover. Through my work as a high school and college teacher, I've been lucky to work with amazing students as they develop their individual projects and presentations. I have learned about so many new topics as a result of my students' interests, and I find joy and inspiration in guiding them as they explore those interests and refine their skills in critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and problem solving. I think teaching and mentoring are so much fun, so I'm ecstatic to work with more students through Polygence!

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.

Teach a chemistry/biology concept two ways: to your fellow students and to the general public

One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Choose a chemical/biological concept that interests you and prepare a lesson on it. The format should be a video recording of yourself teaching (a la Khan Academy or a Zoom class), but the other details are up to you. Consider incorporating a demonstration (e.g. how can you use items from your kitchen to illustrate properties of mixtures?) or animation (e.g. to illustrate molecular motion). Also consider how you will check that your students understand the concept(s) and/or skill(s) you have taught them. Prepare and record two versions of your lesson: one intended for your peers and one for the general public. How will the versions differ to reflect these different audiences? You will learn: -what it's like to teach -a much greater understanding of your chosen concept(s)/skill(s) -how to communicate science to different audiences

Write a research proposal for biomarker diagnostics research

Our ability to detect very low concentrations of molecules in blood has vastly improved in recent years. This has sparked an interest in "liquid biopsy" diagnostic approaches, in which blood can be collected and analyzed for the presence of "biomarkers," molecules that may indicate if the patient has a particular disease. This is less invasive and safer than traditional tissue biopsy. Identify a disease or condition that is of interest to you and for which patients could benefit from a better diagnostic test (there is an "unmet need"). Survey the scientific literature for biomarker candidates for this disease/condition. Based on your reading, choose a set of biomarkers that you think should be studied for their diagnostic potential. Defend your choice in a research proposal. You will learn: -What a biomarker is -How to find and read scientific literature on a topic of interest -How to assess what you've read and use it to design projects that build on it -Basics of proposing a new research project in writing

Communicate causes of drug resistance in tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or another infectious disease

A major challenge in the treatment of infectious diseases like tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS is when the pathogen becomes resistant to the drug(s) used to treat it. In order to fight back, it is helpful to know how the pathogen accomplishes that, but our understanding is usually incomplete. Choose an infectious disease that you find fascinating and survey the scientific literature for what is known about when the pathogen becomes drug-resistant. Communicate your findings by either: -Making a podcast -Writing a literature review article You will learn: -How to find and read scientific literature on a topic of interest -The current state of knowledge on drug resistance for your chosen infectious pathogen -How to summarize the current state of scientific knowledge using the medium of a podcast or of an academic literature review article

Coding skills


Languages I know

Brazilian Portuguese (beginner); Spanish (beginner)

Teaching experience

I have several years' worth of teaching experience at the high school, undergraduate, & graduate levels. I have developed teaching skills in a variety of formats, from teaching full lectures as a professor, to leading small groups of students in section as a teaching assistant, to working one-on-one with high school students with learning disabilities or college students in office hours, to teaching remotely via Zoom. I think teaching is so much fun and I really enjoy the work of coaching and mentoring students through individual projects, so I'm ecstatic to work with a new group of students through Polygence!


Work experience

Wellesley College (2019 - 2020)
Visiting Lecturer in Chemistry
Fusion Academy Newton (2019 - 2019)
High School Teacher
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health/Harvard Medical School (2014 - 2015)
Research Assistant
Whitaker International Program; KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis & HIV/AIDS (2013 - 2014)
Post-baccalaureate Research Fellow


Wellesley College
BA Bachelor of Arts (2013)
Chemistry, Economics
Harvard University
MA Master of Arts
Chemical Biology

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