Student Spotlight: Paige Halas MS ’19, Ph.D ’24

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“Conducting cancer research is working with others to fill a bucket one drop at a time to achieve results that better serve cancer patients.”

Paige Halas sits quietly at her lab station. Her mind focused on the tasks at hand. She works diligently on her experiment while raising her head occasionally to give several colleagues a supportive and warming smile. After looking through her microscope and writing down several notes, Paige begins the next stage of her experiment. As a methodical scientist, Paige puts on her gloves, places several vials on the table, and quickly finds her pipette. Her hand steady and carefully moves liquid from a tube to several vials. Her face and mind focused on helping as many people as possible through her research.

Immersed in a community of research and learning, Paige’s UCI experience has been a cyclone of inspiration, opportunity, and plenty of experimental trial and error. As she begins the final stages of graduating with her Ph.D. this spring, 2024, she carries the wisdom she acquired from the research world, ready to conquer the next phase of her journey.

From The Books to The Lab: A Journey into Research

Paige’s journey into cancer research began when she was young. One of her aunts, who worked in the bio-tech industry, motivated her to pursue pharmaceutical research. She thought it was incredible and enlightening that someone could do something to help patients without being a doctor. This experience was the first step that drew the young Paige into the world of bio-medical research, with her landing in oncology. Paige believed that oncology was the right path for her. She stated, “Cancer is something that a lot of people are impacted by, and it is a disease that we really don’t understand. It is something that is complex and it drew me in. I really want to do something with my research that impacts patients, but also be in a field that I felt needed help to grow.”

Paige’s path to cancer research was not the most traditional. The first stop on Paige’s journey was in high school. In her high school courses, Paige became interested in chemistry which led her to Willamette University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. While at Willamette, Paige found her passion lied in biology more than chemistry. With the help of a biology professor who mentored her, Paige transitioned from a small liberal arts college to continue her education at a R1 research institution.

After graduating from Willamette University, Paige’s journey would lead her to the steps of the University of California, Irvine for the next seven years. Paige began work on her Master of Science in Biotechnology. This biology heavy program came with the wonder of doing biology research which she did not have experience with during undergrad. While doing coursework and researching malaria, Paige landed several internships at several biotech companies. These opportunities helped Paige hone her lab skills and gave her a clear idea of what she wanted her career to be outside of the classroom. These internships made Paige realize that a master’s degree wouldn’t be enough for what she really wanted to do in her career, guide business decisions with scientific insights. With a Ph.D., this passion can become reality.

Paige enrolled in the Ph.D. program, where she wanted to hone her independent research skills. She pivoted from molecular biology to oncology with the goal of doing translational research. Paige landed in Dr. Devon Lawson’s lab, where she has been studying the ins and outs of breast cancer metastasis for the past five years. During her time in the Lawson Lab, Paige has become a valuable mentor to undergraduates and colleagues.

Career and Research Advice

When asked about what advice she would like to pass on to current and future researchers, Paige emphasizes the importance of self-motivation and resilience. Paige stated, “If you are not passionate about doing this type of work, it will not be very rewarding. A lot of people get into cancer research because they have a family member or friend who has been affected by cancer, and that’s plenty of motivation. However, you have to be driven to know what comes along with dealing with a complicated disease that is very context-dependent. In terms of resilience, you will have many experiments that will fail, but with each failure, you learn a little bit more to improve your research. It could take many experiments to get that success you longed for.”

Paige made sure to state, for career advice, some words of wisdom: “No matter what educational path you go through, you need to make sure you have independent research experience. That is the number one thing you need to possess because if you can drive your own project, you are going to be way more successful than if you only know how to do one type of experiment or one type of study.”

Paige Halas’s cancer research journey and experience exemplify her commitment to fostering academic, personal, and professional growth. Her story inspires those looking to have a career and impact in cancer research. As she moves closer to graduating with her Ph.D., Paige shows the extraordinary spirit of a well-rounded student, ready to embrace the next challenge and opportunities in front of her.

Connect with Paige on LinkedIn >>>

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