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The WCMM Research School | Alumni Spotlight: Inspiring the next generation of scientists

röda pratbubblor

In a recent interview, we had the chance to catch up with Abigail Altman, an alumnus of the WCMM research school, who embarked on an inspiring initiative, visiting Internationella Engelska Skolan in Staffanstorp to introduce the world of science to 12-13-year-olds.

We had the pleasure to interview Abigail and she shared her motivations, experiences, and insights gained from this engaging outreach program. 

Q: What inspired you to start engaging with students and sharing science in schools? 
"Reflecting on my journey from secondary education to pursuing a PhD in life sciences, I realized I lacked exposure to real-life researchers during my schooling. This gap made it challenging for me to envision a career in science. I wanted to bridge that gap for young students, especially before they made decisions about their educational paths. Additionally, I aimed to challenge stereotypes surrounding scientists", says Abigail.

In collaboration with Nicholas Leigh, Abigail orchestrated a session with a diverse group of WCMM alumni to break these stereotypes and illustrate that anyone, regardless of appearance or background, could pursue a career in research. 

Q: Can you share a memorable experience from interacting with students during your outreach activities? 
Abigail highlighted the inquisitive nature of the students. 

"During our presentations, the students asked questions that were both unexpected and refreshing. They didn't hold back and their curiosity was truly inspiring. It made me realize how self-doubt sometimes inhibits us from asking questions. Their candid approach was a reminder to embrace curiosity without hesitation." 

Q: How do you believe science education and engagement in schools can be improved, and what role do you think researchers play in this improvement? 
"Events like these are crucial in connecting experts with budding minds”, says Abigail. 

Abigail continued by emphasizing the importance of continuous science outreach. 

Moreover, researchers must not confine their involvement to academic settings but extend it to the broader community. By making science accessible and relatable, we can counter misinformation and build a better-informed society", she says. 

Q: What challenges do you face when communicating complex scientific concepts to school students, and how do you overcome them? 
Abigail highlighted the challenge of simplifying complex ideas. 

"The key is finding common ground between research and students' interests. For instance, presenters used relatable examples - like Swedish football players or discussing cancer treatment's impact - which resonated with the students, making the subject matter more engaging and personal."

This initiative taken by Abigail and her colleagues showcases the impact of connecting young minds with real-world science, emphasizing the need for relatable and inclusive approaches to inspire the scientists of tomorrow. 

Text: Elin Arvidsson & Paula Martos Salvo, WCMM Research School communicators

Portrait of Abigale Altman

Biography of Abigail Altman

Abigail (Abby) completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Denver where she had her first contact with immunology while studying the HIV Envelope protein. She quickly realized she was more interested in immune responses over pathogens and moved across the Atlantic to Sweden to pursue a Master’s degree at Lund University. During her Master’s, in the Pereira Lab, Abby identified the transcription factor combination necessary to induce plasmacytoid dendritic cell identify from fibroblasts. Abby’s interest in applying reprogramming to better understand lineage specification of immune cells inspired her to pursue a PhD where she is now exploring dendritic cell and lymphoid lineages diversity. She hopes her efforts will help not only to better understand immune cell fate decisions but can also be repurposed towards patient-specific immunotherapies.

Besides research, Abby is involved in diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) efforts at the Lund Stem Cell Center since the DEI Committee was created in 2021. She is driven towards developing and implementing initiatives that promote DEI practices including creating educational activities and resources designed to increase awareness and understanding of diversity and inclusion principles in her environment.

In her free time, Abby loves everything about the outdoors. She likes running, hiking, camping, and above all skiing. Abby is also an avid reader and enjoys spending time with her dog.