MIKEL HAGGADONE, Ph.D.
PhD Candidate, Recipient of 2018 Graduate Student Award in Teaching
OGPS: What is your academic and research background?
Haggadone: In 2014, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BS in Cellular and Molecular Biology. As an incoming undergraduate student, I first participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) working for Dr. Peter Ward. Throughout the next four years, I continued to work in the Ward Lab, finishing my honors thesis research in April 2014, and would also complete a summer research internship working at the University of Mainz in Germany. After graduating in 2014, I moved to Northern California to start my PhD at Stanford University. However, after a year of battling mental health issues, I returned to the University of Michigan in January 2016 to continue my graduate work in immunology amongst a phenomenally supportive group of mentors and peers. Currently, I am entering my fourth year as a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Marc Peters-Golden.
Haggadone: Similar to many undergraduate students, I began my education with the intention of attending medical school. However, participating in UROP enabled me to discover a passion for basic science research that heavily influenced my professional goals and motivated me to begin looking at prospective PhD programs. Furthermore, during my final year as an undergraduate student, I served as a Teaching Assistant for one of the introductory biology courses on campus. I very quickly realized a love for teaching and student mentorship, which solidified my decision to pursue a profession in academia. Although one could say that these experiences set my feet on the path towards a career in science, the reality is that I have two parents who were phenomenal educators, and who inspired me to use education as a means for positively influencing the world around me. So, the intrinsic value of knowledge was instilled in me at a very early age, which I am incredibly grateful for.
OGPS: What are your current research initiatives?
Haggadone: Since joining the Peters-Golden lab, I have been studying a subset of small, cell-secreted structures called extracellular vesicles (EVs). In the lung, EVs released by the main tissue-resident immune cell, the alveolar macrophage, are concentrated with anti-inflammatory molecules that are taken up by surrounding epithelial cells, which is important for keeping inflammation at bay. From the perspective of a basic biologist, this is also a fascinating phenomenon because it suggests that over time, these two cell types have evolved to depend on one another for generating, secreting, and acquiring homeostatic information that is concentrated in little vesicular packages. However, while the functional importance of these EVs is known, we still know very little about how molecular information is specifically concentrated (i.e., packaged) into EVs. In addition, a question of interest to our laboratory is whether the structural fidelity and transmissibility of EVs might be compromised when they are exposed to degradative enzymes released during inflammation. These two questions have become the foci of my thesis work.
OGPS: What are your future goals?
Haggadone: Following the completion of my PhD, I plan to continue participating in academic research with additional roles as an educator and mentor. In particular, it is my goal to develop a basic science research program that serves to foster the growth of young scientists, while also continuing to develop myself as a teacher and student advocate. In doing so, I am committed to positively influencing discussions and policies pertaining to student wellness as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion in academia. More generally, my desire is to continue living with intention, fulfillment, and sincere commitment to fulfilling both professional and personal aspirations.
Haggadone: Professionally, I am most proud of the positive impact that I have made on other students’ academic experiences, particularly when it comes to student wellness in the first year of graduate school. Since returning to the University of Michigan in 2016, my goal has been to develop and improve an initiative within my graduate program for better integrating first year PhD students into our community. With my classmate, Cara Porsche, I helped to implement a First Year Mentorship Program that has served this very purpose while tangibly improving the way new students are embraced in the Immunology Graduate Program. Furthermore, I am very proud to have been recognized, both as an undergraduate and graduate student, for excellence in teaching. Though, while receiving awards is nice, reading my students’ testimonials in the process of doing so has been far more rewarding. Truly, I am privileged to have worked with some phenomenal students throughout the past four years who make embarking on this career path so rewarding.
OGPS: What is one piece of advice you would give new Ph.D. students?
Haggadone: Perhaps this goes against convention, but my advice to all aspiring scientists is to completely rid yourself of the worry about where and how much to publish. In other words, focus your energy on process measures as opposed to outcome measures. We can’t all publish the highest impact work to be highlighted in the world’s “best” scientific journals. What we all can do is set goals, extract valuable information from all successes and failures, and – most importantly – remember that our worth as scientists (and human beings in general) is unconditional and continually worth celebrating. I, similar to many PhD students, postdocs, and faculty members, have struggled with overemphasizing results at the expense of reflecting on skills acquired, perspectives explored, challenges overcome, etc. As scientists, we have the unique opportunity to discover truths about the world that no one else knows exist. Remember how amazing of an opportunity this is and how awesome you are for embracing the challenge!
Haggadone: Outside of lab, my two main passions are ultra-distance trail running and plant-based nutrition. I took up endurance sports shortly after returning to the University of Michigan in 2016 and currently participate in trail races ranging from 50 kilometers to 50 miles as a member of the Some Work, All Play (SWAP) Adventure Team. Through ultra-endurance training, I have found that the most potent antidote to discomfort and adversity in life is self-love and gratitude. In addition, I often volunteer at, and help to organize, local running events. To fuel this hobby, I have developed a strong interest in nutrition, and I thoroughly enjoy learning more about ways to marry endurance training with a whole food, plant-based diet. You can often find me at The Lunch Room or Detroit Street Filling Station enjoying a delicious vegan meal with friends, or at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market stocking up on locally sourced produce.