In this blog post, we feature an Interview with Ms. Hannah Scanlon, a PhD student at Duke University. She won the Poster Award in the CDEV group at SMB 2023!

Hannah with her poster

When did you first become interested in mathematics and biology?

Math was always my easy answer to “what is your favorite subject” growing up. I enjoyed learning more math in school and being challenged to think creatively through various math contests I participated in. In high school, I discovered an interest in biology through my courses. I was fascinated by the search to understand how living things work and find solutions to problems in human health. For a time, I considered a career in medicine to focus on my biological interests but was hesitant to leave my deep love for mathematics behind. When I learned about Applied Mathematics and more specifically mathematical biology in college, I was thrilled to find a fitting way to combine my interests.

Was the decision to do a Ph.D. an obvious and easy choice?

I consider my choice to pursue a Ph.D. relatively obvious but not easy. When I first explored mathematical biology research as an undergraduate, I found I really enjoyed the experience and wanted to continue as a researcher. I also wanted to extend my training to give me the skills to be an independent researcher throughout my career. With those goals, a Ph.D. is an obvious choice. However, choosing to apply for and work towards a Ph.D. is still challenging. I am motivated by my end goals and am enjoying my time as a graduate student, but the work a PhD requires is still difficult and requires persistence.

What are your main research questions and why are they interesting?

I am motivated by the application of mathematical techniques including modeling, dynamical systems, numerical simulations and analysis to problems in medicine and public health. My dissertation research utilizes multiscale modeling of the intracellular dynamics of microtubules and cargo to understand the regenerative behavior of neuronal axons. With these interests, I plan to pursue an industry-based career in pharmaceutical and/or biotechnology development.

What makes you passionate about your work?

I am passionate about the ways math can be used to help answer questions in biology and human health. Mathematics holds so many powerful tools that can help us learn more about biological systems, investigate new innovations in healthcare more quickly and safely than with conventional methods, and hypothesize new solutions to existing problems. I am motivated to help demonstrate the potential mathematical modeling has to accelerate discovery in these other fields.

What do you like to do in your spare time outside of work?

I love to play ultimate frisbee and spend time outside with my family, friends and dog, Yogi!