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Sep 10 2017
by Marie Fayssoux

UT Austin Sophomore Looks To Improve Life With CRISPR Technology

By Marie Fayssoux - Sep 10 2017
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FRI Lab Mentor 

Elizabeth Robinson always had the idea that she would end up dedicating her life to science in some way simply because of how her parents raised her, but it wasn't until her freshman year of high school that this general idea turned into a passion. After learning about the four major classes of macro-molecules (DNA, fat, carbs and proteins), she was sold. 

Soon Elizabeth's drive to learn about DNA and genetics turned into an overarching interest in life processes. 

"I joined biology because genetics fascinates me, and in general, I love understanding how people — and just life — work."

That's why, as a sophomore at UT Austin, she's planning to double major in biology and humanities. The latter is sort of a "build-a-degree" program that is covered by taking courses in philosophy, psychology, anthropology and history. 

Though Elizabeth loves biology and is often surrounded by women in her courses, she still faces discouragement. Doubt presents itself in various ways such as "never knowing if you're being denied something because you're female, putting up with off-handed comments on female vs. male work ethic and never knowing if the next step up will be far more sexist than where you are now." 

But Elizabeth's strength helps her to see being a woman in science mostly as a gift. 

"I love science, and so do most of my female friends. Simply by existing in our fields, we're combating stereotypes and teaching others what's possible."

When asked if she could solve one problem with the help of her field, Elizabeth gave an answer that was way over my head: she would love to virtually perfect CRISPR technology, making it a reliable, as well as reversible, process. As I found out, CRISPR is basically a system that can be programmed to edit sections of genetic code for a myriad of (potentially beneficial) uses, but in its current state, it is overshadowed by skepticism. Elizabeth is aware of CRISPR's present capacity for harm, but also its capacity for good.

Outside of biology, Elizabeth also has a passion for storytelling. She has published two novels and has drafted many more. She has a blog, writes for Fresh U and is involved in many writing clubs. Someday she hopes to combine her love of storytelling with science and become a science communicator. "Like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Diana Gabaldon," she said. 

With that in mind you can consider this her first public service announcement to young women and girls interested in STEM fields:

"Be courageous, but also be [yourself]. So many times I've seen people bend over backwards just to try to combat stereotypes: you're doing yourself a disservice. Play to your usual strengths, even if they seem to fit a stereotype, because whether it's due to your sex or not, it's part of who you are and acting against your usual habits or making yourself paranoid will only distract you."

In her free time, you can find Elizabeth trying out gadgets and software, 3D printing gifts for her family, making movies and music videos, watching YouTube, coming up with witty replies to texts, eating "too much" guacamole and of course, writing. 

To learn more about CRISPR technology, click here

This piece was written as part of Fresh U's bi-weekly "Young Women in Science" series. You can read the previous feature here

Lead Image Credit: chuttersnap via Unsplash

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Marie Fayssoux - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Marie is attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She plans to major in human development/family studies and minor in creative writing. She has an affinity for Guinea pigs, hairless cats, glitter, avocados and changing the world. Follow her on Twitter @MissMarieAsh

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