March 11th, 2016

Meet the Mentors: Holly Christensen


Holly Christensen
Graduate Student
MIT, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

The Genes in Space Team is comprised of many outstanding and passionate individuals. Holly Christensen was a Genes in Space mentor last year and is excited to mentor a finalist again during this year’s competition.

Why did you decide to mentor a Genes in Space finalist again?

I decided to mentor a Genes in Space finalist again because I greatly enjoyed mentoring my finalist last year! As an undergraduate research assistant in the Chedin laboratory at UC Davis, I had both a great graduate student mentor and a wonderful faculty mentor, who always took the time to answer my questions, help me interpret my results, and give me advice. Having benefitted enormously from great mentoring, I knew that I wanted to be that type of mentor for someone else. Last year, I had a lot of fun helping Anna-Sophia develop an experiment to answer her question. It was very rewarding experience knowing that I was passing on the skills that my mentors had taught me to Anna-Sophia. I'm looking forward to mentoring a new finalist this year!

When did you realize you wanted to go into science? Did you always like it? What was your trajectory?

I have always known I wanted to go into biology, however, it wasn't until I was in middle school that I became interested in genetics and molecular biology. My interest in genetics stemmed from my personal desire to understand how my sister and I could be genetically related, but still very different in both appearance and personality! My interest in molecular biology began when I learned about stem cells and wanted to understand how, despite having the same genome, embryonic stem cells are able to give rise to all embryonic cell types while most adult cells can only give rise to one or two different cell types. While attending college at UC Davis, I learned that the differences in differentiation potential between embryonic stem cells and adult cells were do to epigenetic differences. I subsequently joined the Chedin laboratory as an undergraduate research assistant where I studied R-loop formation at CpG island promoters. After graduating from UC Davis, I entered the MIT Department of Biology graduate program and joined the Page laboratory where I currently study histone modifications in male germ cells.

Just for fun: What do you do besides science?

Outside of the lab, I enjoy trying out new recipes on my friends, hanging out with my guinea pig, watching women's soccer and basketball, reading novels, and listening to podcasts on my walk to work.