Meet Dr. Daisy Shu: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School

Marian Caballo
Jan 25 · 5 min read

Daisy Shu is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Saint-Geniez Laboratory at Harvard Medical School, currently investigating the role of metabolism and mitochondria in retinal eye diseases. She’s shared her journey into academia and science communication with Girl Genius Magazine.

My background is in optometry and vision science having completed optometry school at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia, and worked for two years as a clinical optometrist in private practice before pursuing my research career. I completed my Ph.D. studies in the Lens Research Laboratory at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Prof Frank Lovicu exploring the mechanisms underlying cataract formation. As you can see (pun intended), I’m very much fascinated by all things to do with eyes and the visual system in general.

Believe it or not, I didn’t actually choose biology as a subject in high school and now I’m a cellular/molecular biologist. That just goes to show, you can still appreciate and learn about new topics as you progress through your studies. My optometry degree was highly clinically-focused so I didn’t get much hands-on wet laboratory experience. In fact, it was only after the 3rd year of my optometry degree where I applied for the UNSW Summer Vacation Research Scholarship where I was able to experience actual hands-on wet lab research. As part of the scholarship, I spent 6 weeks of my summer at the Save Sight Institute of Sydney Eye Hospital under the supervision of Dr. Michele Madigan studying ways of blocking melanoma in the eye. This experience was very eye-opening ;) and was the moment I decided I wanted to pursue research after my optometry degree. My mentor, Dr. Madigan was very supportive and encouraged me to apply for a Ph.D. after my studies and helped me through the process. Fast forward almost 10 years and I’m now doing my postdoc at Harvard and I’m very grateful for having such a positive introduction to life in research with Dr. Madigan.

My current research explores the changes in mitochondria and cellular metabolism that occur during age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly population. Intriguingly, the eye is a highly metabolically active tissue, even more so than the brain and heart for its weight. As we age, our mitochondrial function and metabolic activity declines and our lab is curious about whether this process may be accelerated in certain cells of the retina, thus leading to the formation of AMD. By understanding what goes wrong during AMD, we can then discover exciting, novel drug targets to block these dysfunctional aging changes and potentially restore vision.

I got into science communication by being part of the Science Communication Training Fellowship of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) in 2017. During this program, we were asked to do an outreach activity and I decided to crowdfund my research project and through the process, I created a video about my Ph.D. project on cataract formation and also promoted this on social media.

It was such a great experience for me as it introduced me to the power of social media to communicate your science and also the importance of explaining your research in a way that resonates with the wider community and makes an impact. I think it’s important to take a step back from the nitty-gritty details of our research and look at how the broader significance of our work.

It’s a balance of keeping it simple but also including enough detail so that your statement is still specific to your research. I like to use broader concepts such as metabolism and aging as these are already well-known by the general population. While it is also important to include more specific details such as the disease you’re working on or the protein/genes of interest, these need to be explained and put into context for it to make sense to the audience, or else, your explanation may just end up being a lot of acronyms that may be hard to keep up with.

I absolutely love to see people getting creative with their science communication. I love the work of @science.bae on Instagram who is super talented at makeup and uses her face as a canvas to explain complex scientific concepts. Last year, I ran a project on my social media called “Emojifying Research” where I asked my followers to explain their research in 10 emojis. It was so fun to see how creative scientists got with their emoji usage.

I love using social media as a means of improving and practicing science communication. I would suggest using Twitter to explain your research as you only get 280 characters per Tweet so it’s automatically going to help you improve on your succinctness. Explaining your research in a video on Instagram, YouTube or TikTok would also be a great way to practice explaining your research project or even any laboratory techniques you are learning about or currently practicing.

My favorite part of working in STEM is the discovery aspect. Every day is full of surprises! I get to ask questions that no one has asked before, run an experiment to test it, find out the answer, and advance our knowledge.

Girl Genius

Empowering womxn in STEAM since 2018