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Life as a Postdoc – Dr. Skylar King

Dr. Skylar King effortlessly juggles her research, campus involvement, and her family responsibilities while working as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. Skylar works in Dr. Shiyou Chen’s Cardiovascular Biology Research Lab with an emphasis in genetics, cell, and molecular biology to understand and learn more about diseases that relate to the heart and blood vessels. Her involvement with the campus community is as the Communications and Marketing Chair of the MU Postdoc Association (MUPA). An important facet of her identity is as the proud mother of two energetic boys, currently 17 and 14 years old. She also has two dogs and her oldest son has recently added 6 hermit crabs to the family; everyone has adopted his love for them.

Hailing from Bowie, Texas, Skylar attended the University of North Texas (UNT) for her Bachelor of Arts in Biology with minors in Chemistry and English. She continued at UNT, pursuing her PhD in Biology under the mentorship of Dr. Pamela Padilla. Skylar joined Dr. Padilla’s lab through a Howard Hughes Medical Institute internship as an undergraduate and continued on through her PhD.

Describing her mentor, Skylar said, “she motivated me because she was the first minority woman professor I had ever met. I was kind of a non-traditional student because I attended college as a single mom and I was a lot older than most of my peers. Dr. Padilla told me she wrote her dissertation with a toddler and if she could do it, anyone could. That was just the inspiration that I needed and it led me to do research in her lab.” The support of a mentor who showed her that family and academia can coexist was paramount.

She came to Mizzou in 2019 as a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Ron Mittler’s lab, focusing on cell stress, survival, and death. “He was able to introduce me to working with mammalian models that are translatable to human diseases and I was already familiar with the protein family he was studying,” Skylar said.

After working in Dr. Mittler’s lab for about 6 months, Skylar saw an opening in Dr. Shiyou Chen’s lab studying cardiovascular diseases. Skylar felt an instant draw to this work because her grandfather passed away from peripheral artery disease. “Since cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death globally, I was really interested in Dr. Chen’s lab and having my research make a global impact on human health,” Skylar said.

The move and new focus paid off. Skylar was recently awarded a National Institutes of Health F32 Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship, which provides 3 years of salary for promising postdoctoral researchers as well as resources for travel to conferences and related costs. “I never could have gotten that without Dr. Chen’s support and supervision; he has helped me so much in my career already,” Skylar shared. “He really took a chance on me because I had a different background than the research he was doing but he had faith in me that I could become a great cardiovascular researcher.” As part of the grading criteria for her F32 Fellowship, grant reviewers look at the applicant, sponsoring mentor, training plan, the institutional environment, and commitment to training. “If MU wasn’t such a great research facility they definitely wouldn’t have rated me so well and I wouldn’t have received the fellowship,” Skylar said. She continued, “That’s what sets MU apart; the network that I have, the PI and collaborators that I have, the people in the MU Research Development Network, like Nancy Walker who was also integral in me receiving the F32. It’s all just amazing, and I am very thankful!”

In addition to her roles as a researcher and mother, Skylar’s position on the executive board for MUPA allows her to connect with a network of peers on campus. “I was having a hard time adjusting to Missouri with COVID because I was new from Texas. Then I met with Dr. Kimberly Jasmer, Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, and the previous MUPA chair, who encouraged me to get involved with MUPA so that I could meet other postdoc scholars and form that community through events and networking,” Skylar shared.

Through this organization, Skylar is working to provide community and professional development support for postdoctoral scholars and disseminate opportunities such as job listings, awards, or grants to fellow postdocs. She added, “we had an amazing social in December, we all wore ugly sweaters and decorated ornaments. It was nice to be able to relax from the research part of the job but still connect and spend time with people that are similar to you and in similar roles.” She encourages other postdoc scholars to get involved with MUPA on Facebook or Twitter @mu_mupa.