PhD Candidate, Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Kristy was recently awarded the prestigious HHMI Gilliam Fellowship. Read more here.
OGPS: What is your academic and research background?
Holme: My academic experience has been a very long and winding road! I wasn’t exposed to much science education throughout high school and didn’t discover my interest in biology until much later in life. The first degree I pursued was in music therapy at Michigan State University. However, I promptly dropped out of school during my first semester. The next few years included attending several community colleges and acting school in New York City. Several years later I would attend school to become a massage therapist. This is where I fortunately discovered an intense desire to understand how environmental factors can persistently alter physiology. After graduation I began pursuing a degree in biology and had the lucky opportunity to meet my first research mentor, Dr. Michael Morris at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. I still defend that he taught me everything I know! His belief in my abilities pushed me to discover the confidence to apply for and attend graduate school. Today I am still interested in how the environment regulates physiology and currently focus on how the food we eat changes our behaviors and overall health.
OGPS: How did you decide what you wanted to do in your science career?
Holme: During and after massage therapy school I became intensely curious about how external factors from the environment (exercise, massage therapy, diet, etc.) can cause lasting changes to health and physiology. This interest has continued to drive my scientific research forward. I think I will always be intrigued by trying to understand how perception of and interaction with our external world is so impactful. However, in addition to research, my experiences in community college and elsewhere instilled a passion to teach and mentor students from non-traditional backgrounds. I believe that given the right support and circumstances, science is for everyone and is better with everyone. I want to empower others to follow their curiosity and show them that science is for them, too.
OGPS: Describe one of your current research initiatives that you are most excited about and why.
Holme: We are interested in understanding how internal states, specifically hunger, regulate health and how we age. This is a complex problem that can’t be solved in humans yet, so we use fruit flies to uncover the basic science principles that govern how internal states are encoded and how they regulate physiology. I’m working with a brilliant undergraduate researcher in the lab to visually characterize how flies behave when they eat. We eat for many reasons (e.g. boredom, stress, hunger, because bread is really good) and flies might too, so eating may not be the best read-out of the hunger state. This undergraduate has filmed and watched many (MANY) videos of flies eating and identified characteristic micro-behaviors that occur more frequently when a fly has been starved. We think that we can use these behaviors and some new brain imaging techniques to identify how “hunger” is encoded in the fly brain. This is a long-term project and it is only just beginning, but I am so proud of the progress this undergraduate has made so far!
OGPS: How did mentors help you on your journey? What does mentoring mean to you?
Holme: I absolutely would not be here if it were not for the mentors I met along the way. To me, a good mentor provides you the help and confidence you need to draw your own conclusions and pursue your own ideas. They meet you where you are and push you to keep taking one more step forward. Mentors also come in many forms, both formal and informal. One critical example of this for me came from a professor teaching an organic chemistry laboratory during undergrad. I was struggling to find the answer to a lab problem, and he insisted that I could figure it out and would stay until I did. I sat at the bench for two hours struggling and believing that I couldn’t do it, but he never gave up and never gave me the answer. Eventually I figured it out, and that moment was a transformative experience for me. I continue to learn valuable lessons from my current mentor. One of the first times I met my PI, I was struggling with a decision and he gave me advice that I follow still today: go after what you want without hesitancy. This advice has been critical to me in the last few years. Graduate school is full of failure and uncertainty, but my mentors have taught me that you can’t let that stop you from pursuing the things you believe in.
OGPS: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Holme: I generally believe that you don’t “accomplish” anything alone. Rather, I think that most achievements are some combination of luck and circumstance. There are many things I am proud of, but I owe those successes to the people who lifted me up and laid the groundwork for me. Having the tenacity to apply for graduate school at Michigan is maybe the thing I am most proud of, but it was only possible because of the encouragement I received from professors I met at community college and my undergraduate research mentor. I am hard-of-hearing and come from a low socioeconomic background, so applying for and eventually attending graduate school was not something I thought was attainable or even in my vision early-on. Now that I’m here, I’ve made it a priority to improve access and inclusion for students from backgrounds like mine and, along with my mentor, have been awarded the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship to do it. We’re collaborating with students and professors from the architecture and design school to improve our physical spaces for people with different sensory needs. This is something I am super excited about and hope will continue to grow and evolve throughout my time here.
OGPS: What is one piece of advice you would give new PhD students?
Holme: Be fiercely creative. I mean this both scientifically and in other aspects of your life. Find ways to do things that work for you and your mind. Science can become incredibly routine and mundane if you follow the rules all the time. It’s important that you have the gusto to propose new ideas despite how strange they may sound at first, or whether you think they will work. If you continue to talk about and develop them, you might be surprised at what they turn into. Science needs this kind of intellectual diversity and it may inspire you to persist when your path seems unclear.
OGPS: What do you like to do outside of the lab?
Holme: I really love food, animals, music, and Michigan football. When I’m not working you can bet on finding me engaging in one of those things! I also try to stay active whether it’s running, yoga, or my newfound appreciation for soccer. I have been lucky to meet really amazing friends and colleagues at Michigan and enjoy experiencing these things with them, too.
OGPS: What are your future goals?
Holme: Generally speaking my broad goal is simply to always be in perpetual motion. In the context of science, this means always pursuing whatever I am most curious about and finding ways around technical and logistical barriers that might exist. I hope that I will always continue to learn new things and have new experiences. Perpetual motion in the context of a career for me means that I hope to always propel others forward. I hope that I can show other people that they are smart and capable individuals who can achieve whatever “impossible” goal they can dream up.