Student Spotlight: Katherine Ward, Ph.D. Biochemistry, ESTEEM

Author: Mary Hendriksen

Notre Dame’s graduate students are a critical part of the University’s research agenda. Not only do graduate students assist faculty with research, they make important discoveries of their own. Katherine Ward, a third-year student in Notre Dame’s doctoral program in Chemistry and Biochemistry who, last year, won a major fellowship from the American Heart Association, is a perfect case in point.

Katherine Ward

A native of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Katherine says that she has always been inspired by science. “My dad, a chemical engineer, has chronic back pain, and I knew from childhood that I wanted to work in a scientific field to—somehow—help restore health to people.”

Katherine first came to Notre Dame as part of a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program between her junior and senior year of college. As testimony to her own skills as well as the interdisciplinary nature of work in the life sciences at Notre Dame, her placement that summer was in the field of biological nanotechnology—in Prof. Ryan Roeder’s laboratory.

“I discovered that summer that science can be fun—that a lab is a place for professors and students to work together to develop new insights and understandings,” she says. After her inspiring REU experience, Notre Dame was Katherine’s first choice for graduate school.

Now in her third year, she is studying an enzyme that is a hallmark of inflammation. Her discoveries may very well contribute to the design of pharmacological therapies for patients with cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Katherine has published preliminary results of her research in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. And, the significance of her work has been recognized by the American Heart Association (AHA), which, last year, awarded her a two-year, $52,000 pre-doctoral fellowship. She also won a supplemental one-year fellowship from Notre Dame’s Chemistry-Biochemistry-Biology Interface, a National Institutes of Health-funded program that offers students the opportunity to train in an interdisciplinary environment that provides significant cross-training at the interface of chemistry, biology, and biochemistry.

Katherine’s advisor, Prof. Robert Stahelin, says, “The AHA pre-doctoral fellowship is a major accomplishment for a third-year graduate student in the current exacting funding environment. In addition, Katherine has earned the first external pre-doctoral award for my laboratory. It will help set the bar for focus, productivity, and dedication.”

Outside of her lab, Katherine has received both a Kaneb Center and a departmental award for teaching. In addition, this year, she is enrolled in the University’s Engineering, Science, and Technology Entrepreneurship professional master’s program, which is designed to give students graduate-level study of innovation, entrepreneurship and general business. In her ESTEEM project, she is taking scientific ideas from her thesis research and developing a business plan to apply them to a market need.

At this point in her graduate school career, enthused by the interdisciplinarity she sees in both her lab and her life, Katherine is contemplating a career in industry. “It would be incredibly rewarding,” she says, “to help bridge the gap between science and business. Industry needs people with strong scientific backgrounds to help bring new technology to the marketplace. Whether I work in the pharmaceutical, orthopedic, or medical industry, right now, that is how I envision making my mark in the world.”