The love of science grows into a passion for helping others

Alumni Affairs
March 01, 2022
Rachel Burge

Meet Rachel Burge, who hails from New Zealand, ranked in the U.S. Archery Nationals during college, is one of eight children, and won the College of Graduate Studies’ first 3-Minute Thesis Competition. Rachel is nothing if not a motivated and dedicated scientist.

"I am originally from New Zealand, and I became fascinated with archery at the age of 15. I worked hard at my sport, trained with a high-level coach, and soon became ranked fifth in Oceania. My single mother, seven siblings and I lived in a small suburb where the resources were limited and the ability to study, work and compete at a high level of my sport was impossible. I applied for and received an archery scholarship to study at Emmanuel College in Georgia and compete in collegiate archery. I maintained a GPA of 3.9 and ranked sixth at the U.S. Archery Nationals," said Burge.

As a biology student at Emmanuel College, her love of science grew into a passion for helping others. As a result, she began student-tutoring in the Academic Resource Center. Tutoring pushed her to become a better student, and Rachel loved passing on her knowledge, helping other students overcome challenges stemming from poor education or limited resources. "My passion and love only increased when I was able to spend several months shadowing an OB/GYN and paramedics. Being able to tangibly contribute to and watch medicine save lives confirmed that I wanted to turn my passion for science into a career," said Burge.

Rachel's ongoing research builds on the discovery of the importance of defining functional consequences of different point mutants on KRAS function and identifying distinct mutation-specific therapeutic vulnerabilities. During her undergraduate program, she conducted a research project with a long-term goal of exploring therapeutic drug strategies to combat skeletal muscle atrophy, which results from a myriad of conditions, but most importantly, cancer treatments.

"My passion for seeing the application of science and especially enhancing patients' quality of life ultimately leads to my goals of contributing to scientific discovery and research and growing personally, academically and professionally," she said. Rachel's goal is to contribute to scientific breakthroughs and overcome barriers to progress. After completing her Ph.D. studies at MUSC, she hopes to further both her research and her understanding of human physiology in order to contribute to advancing therapeutic drug strategies.

We asked Rachel to share some of her thoughts about science and her MUSC experiences.

What drives your commitment to science?

I was originally a sports management major during my undergraduate program, but I switched my degree to biology after my first anatomy class. I started conducting a research project with a long-term goal of exploring therapeutic drug strategies to combat skeletal muscle atrophy, which results from a myriad of conditions, but most importantly, cancer treatments.

My passion for developing this project grew out of my wish to improve health care for patients struggling with chemotherapy's side effects, specifically, muscle atrophy. I saw this firsthand when my father passed away from cancer. Watching his quality of life diminish exponentially highlighted the need for more research into therapeutic drug targets that can give patients a better quality of life.

I love the complexity of science and discovering new things in the lab, so the idea of being able to do that while contributing to better medications drives me to stay committed to science.

How has your experience at MUSC and the College of Graduate Studies impacted your approach to science and opportunities for the future?

I love the Hobbs Lab and our research, especially my lab mates Amanda and Cailey; they keep me laughing and looking forward to coming into the lab. Dr. Hobbs has helped me develop as a scientist and taught me a lot. I also enjoy writing lay articles for the public as a communications intern.

MUSC has provided me with networking opportunities and the chance to connect with amazing people from all over the U.S. MUSC was my top pick for my Ph.D., and I am really happy with my choice.

How do you feel about winning the first 3MT and representing CGS in the regional competition?

I am a little nervous about it, but I am super competitive. So now that I am representing MUSC and competing at the regionals, I am all in. I can't wait to get there and take this to the next level. I love talking about my research, so the idea of taking a complex topic and making it accessible to everyone is super exciting to me!

Going forward, what things do you think MUSC and CGS should be focusing on for the future?

Continuing to focus on collaborations at MUSC. I have loved being a part of the Pancreatic Transdisciplinary Cancer Team. We meet once a month to talk about unpublished research, which is attended by experts from various fields, including basic biology, oncology, pathology, surgery, etc. It allows basic and clinical scientists to meet regularly to foster collaborative ideas, and I have loved it.