Science, Liberal Arts Alumna Seeks PhD In Genetics At Georgetown

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Transferring to Dominican from Santa Rosa Junior college, Haeli Lomheim ’20 MS ’22 arrived with a strong interest in science but the desire to explore all options before committing to a career. As an undergraduate, Haeli majored in both STEM and liberal arts degrees. As a graduate student, Haeli immersed herself in genetics research while also serving as an adjunct instructor to undergraduate science students.

Now, after completing Dominican’s MS in Biological Sciences program, Haeli knows exactly where she wants to be. This fall she will head to Georgetown University to begin work on her PhD on developmental biology and genetics in African clawed frogs.

Her advice to students embarking on their own undergraduate journey is to explore all options before settling on a career.

“My advice would be to really take your time to decide what you want to do,” she says. “Try out different jobs and find a field you love. Then go to school to get a degree that will support you in that. It's hard to know what you want without trying a few things first and there are so many ways to do that. Once you know what you want, it's so much easier to fully commit and be successful in college.” 

As an undergraduate, Haeli explored her academic interests by majoring in both chemistry and psychology. She also worked full-time throughout her undergraduate years, a balancing act that perhaps inspired her undergraduate submission to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research titled “Effects of Stress Management on the General Health of College Students.”

“I looked at the correlation between stress and health and how stress management techniques affected the stress and health of students through verified psychological surveys.”

Haeli has loved science loved since attending Tech High at Sonoma State University. There, students were required to take two periods of engineering and one science class every semester. 

“Chemistry was a favorite of mine and now genetics is too!”

While in Dominican’s master’s program, Haeli worked in Dr. Meredith Protas' lab. The Protas lab works on an aquatic crustacean species that has both surface-dwelling and cave-dwelling populations with extreme differences in eye size, pigmentation, and appendage length. Her goal, and that of her team, is to investigate the genetics and developmental biology behind these differences and to understand how and why these characteristics evolved.

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“I learned so much it's hard to describe,” Haeli notes. “But I learned to be self-sufficient in a lab, how to collaborate and ask for help, and how to do skills like PCR, primer design, microinjections, embryo removal, and electroporation to name a few.”

Dr. Protas says she’s long been impressed by Haeli’s ability to manage her many responsibilities, both as an undergraduate and also as a graduate student.

“She’s shown a lot of initiative with her research exploring new techniques and additional projects,” Dr. Protas says. “I’ve been impressed by how she manages her teaching responsibilities both as a lab instructor and as a mentor to undergraduate students.”

Haeli appreciated the support she received while forming relationships with her faculty mentors, including Dr. Protas, Dr. Ian Barr, and Dr. Obed Hernandez-Gomez. “I could not have made it through the last two years without them,” she remarks. 

“Dr. Protas is a great mentor. She's both kind and patient and always answers any questions you have. She allows you to work through problems on your own, but is always there when you need.” 

By the end of her first semester in the MS program, Haeli knew that she wanted to continue into a PhD program. Georgetown, she says, has always been her dream school. 

“At Georgetown I’m excited to explore genetics in a model organism. The focus will be on genes related to stem cell differentiation.”

Haeli will take with her fond memories of Dominican, which includes commiserating with colleagues in the master’s program while working to meet deadlines. 

“Having a close cohort that can understand what you're working on and who make you feel like you aren't struggling alone is really what got me through it.“

Pictured: Haeli (far left) and members of the MS Biological Sciences graduating cohort celebrate commencement 2022. Also pictured are Enrique Carrera, Fadzai Teramayi, Selma Takajjart, Elena Battistoni, Anne Marker, Asia Davis-Castillo, and Cavan Patterson.

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