Blake Heath

PhD Candidate, Program in Immunology

Hometown: Little Rock, AR/Plano, TX


 

Tell us about yourself!

“Growing up, I always had an interest in reading broadly and learning new things in different areas. In particular, I’m passionate about music and love performing in ensembles. However, my interests in biology and science have always been stronger. Over time I grew to love working at the bench and on experiments and thinking about science, so I’ve not looked back.”

Education.

“I received a B.S. in Biology from Texas Christian University and then completed a post-baccalaureate program at Baylor College of Medicine.”

What’s your favorite place in Michigan?

“Pictured Rocks and Lake Superior.”

What do you like to do when you have free time?

“I enjoy live music events put on by University Musical Society (UMS), reading non-fiction, getting outside in nature (when the weather is warmer), and relaxing with friends.”

What one book would you recommend to the community? Why?

“The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s a gorgeously written book that examines the history of Jim Crow in the US. Reading this during grad school has made me more thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been afforded.”

Briefly describe your research

“My doctoral work is centered on investigating the immunosuppressive mechanisms underlying head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. In particular, I am characterizing the role of key regulatory pathogen recognition receptors (PRRs), which have roles in underlying HNSCC immune resistance.” 

How did other people help you get to where you are today?

“First and foremost, I owe my successes to the love and support I’ve received from my family. They always expected me to reach high and instilled values which have allowed me to overcome challenges. It is with that that I do my best to remember “to whom much is given, much is required.” I’m also appreciative to the encouragement from mentors and close friends through the years.”

 

Tell us about a challenge you ran into in your educational training & how you overcame it.

“My path to the PhD was not straightforward. I didn’t land full-time research training until after college, and with that, it took a while to find my footing in the lab. But I knew that I loved science and with time my confidence in it grew. I also had amazing mentors who encouraged me to keep reaching.”

How do you promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at the University of Michigan?

“For the past three years, I have directed the DEI Biomedical Seminar Series. This program aims to address the insufficiency of underrepresented scientists invited to campus seminars. Thus far, we have invited 14 underrepresented PhD-level scientists, from varied careers, who specifically provide unique strategies on navigating postgraduate careers, including effective networking techniques. The passionate advocacy I have seen from faculty members and my fellow trainees has been great! I definitely want to incorporate this type of work into my future career.”

What got you involved in your DEI initiative?

“This DEI initiative was the product of meetings with our Immunology Faculty Ally, Malini Raghavan, PhD. She regularly meets students to assess the campus and program climate. She developed the draft for a student-led outreach program, which was funded by a Rackham DEI Grant. Once it was funded, in 2017, she recruited both myself and classmate Sonya Wolf to write a student ally supplement and direct the series. It’s been a real pleasure meeting so many diverse scientists and getting to be a part of this series.”

What’s the best advice someone gave you that you still use today?

“My mom told me ‘you were selected for a reason.’ PhD training is a marathon, not a sprint. For me, it’s been helpful to keep this and my long-term goals in mind.”

What advice would you give to an aspiring scientist or first year student in your program?

“Read lots of papers and never be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know the answer. Also, find mentors and people who will care about your development as a scientist and as a person.”

Can students contact you directly?

“Absolutely. Please reach out to me at heathbr@umich.edu.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Spotlights are created with the help of Nnamdi Edokobi, a PhD candidate in the Pharmacology Department.