Second-year PhD student Gillian Grohs is as comfortable in the air as she is in the laboratory. After spending most of her childhood in Colorado, Grohs joined the US Air Force at age 17. “I was an airborne operator technician aboard the E-8C JSTARS aircraft. My job was to track ground movement using radar. I was in for 6 years and separated as a staff sergeant. I have over 2500 combat flying hours and eight air medals for both OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom), and I ended up deploying 8 times,” she said.
After leaving the military, Grohs was able to take advantage of the GI Bill to attend the University of Manchester in England, where she finally was able to pursue an interest in science that stemmed from her childhood love of animals. “As part of my degree, I spent a year working in CNS research at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceutical Company in Biberach, Germany. I worked in the Parkinson's group and was investigating the effect of a Parkinsonian mutation on dopaminergic neurite outgrowth. After my year in Germany, I went back to Manchester to finish my final year and do my bachelor's thesis. There I was in the neuroinflammation group studying at the long-term effects of blocking inflammatory cytokine signaling on cerebrovasculature after stroke.”
Before she had gone to college, Grohs had originally seen herself pursuing a different path. “I played around with the idea of going to med or vet school after university but, after working in the lab, realized that was what I really had a passion for,” she said. It was that passion for lab work that ultimately led her to the University of Kentucky.
Grohs heard about University of Kentucky and the IBS program through Dr. Emmanuel Pinteaux, her thesis supervisor at the University of Manchester and a collaborator with Dr. Gregory Bix of the Department of Neuroscience. “Dr. Pinteaux suggested I apply, and it seemed like a nice place during my interview, and I've never lived in this part of the country so I thought I'd give it a try. I suppose I came to UK to work with Dr. Bix, but I'm really glad I had the chance to do all the lab rotations. I learned about a lot of techniques and ideas that I hope to bring back to the Bix lab.”
Since Grohs has completed her first year of the IBS program and selected Dr. Bix’s lab, she is now turning her focus towards her own research. “I feel very lucky to have been invited to join his lab. He is the director of the UK Center for Advanced Translational Stroke Science that I think is a great resource to enable me to develop a comprehensive project. His lab focuses on the role of the extracellular matrix in stroke and vascular dementia […] I think I'll be looking at the role of the extracellular matrix in amyloid clearance, so more on the vascular dementia side of things.”
When not in the lab, Grohs serves on the outreach committee of the newly-founded Biomedical Graduate Student Organization. She is also an avid traveler and was answering all questions from England before heading to Turkey. “I love learning about different cultures and meeting new unique people. I enjoy seeing the architecture of various places and love to go into museums and galleries to see local art,” she commented about her travels.
Grohs is not yet making any firm plans about where she plans to go after her graduation and is interested in industry and research institutes. However, there is one thing she is certain on: “Either way I want to get back to Europe!”