Amanda Janesick

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Amanda Janesick is not your ordinary graduate student and scientist; she is much more than meets the eye.  Raised by college-educated parents, including an engineer dad who designed the imager that is currently on the Hubble Space Telescope, Amanda was destined for academia.  Yet somehow, the academic path to science didn’t come first. 

After graduating from high school, Amanda danced professionally for the Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas for four years. The experience was socially educational for the self-proclaimed introvert, but she soon began to miss the mental stimulation she knew she could only get from total immersion within a university. 

Amanda’s hunger for higher education led her to UC Irvine as a transfer student, majoring in mathematics.  For one year, she did research in computational biology with Natalia Komarova.  Shortly after, she joined Dr. Hoda Anton-Culver and conducted biostatistics research.  Around the same time, she took a class, on a whim, in Genomics and Proteomics with Dr. Bruce Blumberg; little did she know that he would become her mentor and PI.  After writing a paper for Dr. Blumberg, he recruited Amanda to his lab, and six years later, she continues working with him.  Hence, it was “fate” that Amanda and Dr. Blumberg even met at all, since she merely took his class because it fit her schedule.

“I have always loved science, but finding a mentor who understood me, and appreciated my work ethic was critical,” says Amanda.  “A mentor with an intellectual match; someone who could become a collaborative voice; enhance the science; be curious and passionate about science; this was a powerful impetus.  I have memories of Bruce jumping on top of his desk to find a book on a high shelf, or an old radiogram of a gel in order to explain his point further.  I remember thinking to myself that if a subject can make a seasoned professor this excited, then biology is the field I want to be a part of.”  After being exposed to wet-lab biology, she was hooked. “Although mathematical models and informatics are important, I was very excited to actually test my models in vivo, or within a whole living organism,” says Amanda.

Amanda’s research is in the field of developmental biology, the understanding of how the early embryo “knows” how to pattern and program particular structures in the body.  Developmental biology is a science of time and space: the formation of various tissues and cell types in the body must occur at the right time and in the correct position. The over-arching theme of her research is retinoic acid signaling.  Retinoic acid is derived from vitamin A, and the concentration of this chemical is critical throughout the growth of an embryo.  Amanda studies how retinoic acid controls the development of sensory organs, the central nervous system, and the vertebral column.  

In April, Amanda received UCI’s “Most Promising Future Faculty Member Award” based on nominations made by faculty and students.  Recipients of this highly competitive award exemplify the very core of what it takes to be an engaging instructor with a deep commitment to helping students reach their potential – both in and out of the classroom. The awardees must also show excellence in the other two areas of faculty life- research and service. 

Amanda firmly believes in guiding and supporting others. “I enjoy interacting with students, asking them about their goals in life.  I enjoy making them laugh,” says Amanda.  “Humor is a good method of reaching a student and coming to their level, without becoming “friends” per-se.  I also like building upon what students learn in a textbook.  There is a particular excitement that I observe in students when they actually get to apply a theory to the wet lab. This is when science really comes to life, and I enjoy watching this process time and again in the lab.”

Amanda hopes to obtain her Ph.D. from UC Irvine in the near future and establish a body of work and connections with faculty here, which will serve her well in the future.   After receiving her Ph.D., she will be joining a professional ballet company to exercise that side of her brain again.  She is not leaving science for good, but would like to pursue ballet for a couple of years, while she still can. 

Ultimately, she plans to work towards an academic career.  “I am a driven and focused person, to a fault,” says Amanda.  “Often having little balance in life; I think the break will be healthy, and allow me to refocus and accumulate energy for a post-doc in a high-achieving lab.”

By combining her dual passions for science and dance, Amanda gets to enjoy the best of both worlds and experience a higher quality of life.