Meet a Whitehead Postdoc: Jordana Bloom
Jordana Bloom is a postdoc in Whitehead Institute Member David Page’s lab studying how hormonal changes during menopause affect gene expression throughout the body. We sat down with Bloom to learn more about her and her experiences in and out of the lab.
What are you investigating?
The Page lab is generally interested in how biology differs between men and women and how that affects health and disease. I’m looking at how the hormonal changes that occur during menopause affect women, not just in the reproductive system but throughout the body. Many women experience a variety of changes with menopause, and yet we know very little about the underlying biology. Our main hypothesis is that in all of the tissues of the body, we should find gene expression differences between premenopausal and postmenopausal women. We hope that in identifying these changes, we might be able to understand the biology of menopause better. In the context of the broader themes of the Page lab, I’m asking: if we look at people who have the same sex chromosome content, in this case XX, how do changes in their hormone levels affect their gene expression? We believe that menopause is a good model for studying this question.
When did you know you wanted a career in science?
I really only began learning about the scientific enterprise while in college. I'd never met a scientist before going to college, and I had a very stereotypical idea of what scientists were, like a mad scientist working alone in a basement, disconnected from reality. College was really eye opening for me because I learned about the importance/relevance of fundamental basic biology research. I had been considering medicine, but I realized that whereas in medicine you usually work with one patient at a time, the results of research could theoretically be applied to help lots of people at once.
What do you think is needed to help people who, like you did, come from non-science backgrounds to make the jump into a science career?
I think exposure is very important, to give people a chance to figure out if working in science is something they would like. If I hadn’t met scientists in college, like my biology professors, I still would be in the dark about what being a scientist even means. In the outreach work that I have done since, I have seen how big of an effect exposure can have. I also think the importance of having a good mentor cannot be overstated. When I wanted to apply to PhD programs, I didn’t know anyone who had done that or was doing that. I asked my mentor if he thought I was ready to apply, and if he hadn’t been supportive, I don’t think I would have applied. Having people who believe in you and foster your confidence is important.
What are your experiences doing science outreach?
Outreach is one of my favorite parts of science, tangential to the actual research. You can help nudge people who might be interested in the right direction. When I was at Cornell for my PhD, I was involved in a program meant to encourage middle school aged girls to stay interested in STEM fields, because studies have shown that many teenage girls tend to lose interest in STEM. Here at Whitehead Institute, I've been participating in the Whitehead Teacher Program, where we pair up with high school teachers to be a resource for them. I've also spent some time talking to college freshmen about what you can do with a career in science. I think another important level of outreach is letting older students know that there are different things you can do. Being a scientist doesn’t mean one thing or doing one type of job.
What has been a favorite experience of yours from doing outreach?
With the program for middle school girls, it’s a day-long event where they are exposed to different experiments and workshops. I really enjoyed seeing how the students’ engagement changed over the course of the day. They are sort of hesitant in the beginning, maybe thinking the workshops are going to be lame. But by the end of the day, they are really excited, asking what the next activity is! It’s really cool to watch that transformation, and see the students realize that you can have fun exploring questions that you don't necessarily know the answer to or that don't necessarily have one answer.
What did you want to be as a kid?
I wanted to be an Olympian. I remember watching the Olympics as a little kid. The idea of parading around with the flags, being the best at something, and having everyone cheer you on was really exciting to me. Of course, I don't think I realized what it takes to be an Olympian.
What was your sport?
Growing up, I swam and played tennis. I played tennis in college too, but used to dream about being an Olympic swimmer as a kid, never an Olympic tennis player for whatever reason.
What are your current hobbies?
Since I moved to Cambridge, I like exploring the area and the different types of cuisines that are here. I try to stay active. I really like cooking; it’s kind of like a low stress experiment. It doesn't always turn out great, but you’re fairly confident that you're going to make something you can eat.
Do you have a favorite dish that you have made recently?
I made a lasagna recently that was pretty good. It also lasted a while, so I didn’t have to cook for a few days, which was nice. I also helped coordinate a Covid-safe lab cookie exchange in the beginning of December, so that was fun. Everyone made a different kind of cookie and then we traded them and talked about how we made them and why we chose what we made. We made Ziploc bags of cookies for later, instead of eating together, which wouldn’t have been Covid-safe. It’s been harder to get together with people in the lab now that it’s colder and we can’t eat together outside, so it's nice to do things like this.
What type of cookie did you make?
I made two things, one of which was a cupcake, so I sort of stretched the guidelines of the original idea. I made Biscoff cupcakes, which are cookie butter cupcakes, and peanut butter blossoms, which are peanut butter sugar cookies with a Hershey’s kiss in the middle.
How many other people made cookies?
We definitely had more than ten kinds of cookies so I was really happy. I messaged the lab informally on Slack with the idea that we should do this, so it was exciting to see a high level of participation and to see my labmates having fun with it. There were some really creative cookies. Someone made a matcha cookie. It was kind of savory, rather than sweet, and it was green, which was cool and festive.
Do you collect anything?
I collect mugs and seashells.
What’s your favorite mug?
There used to be these “you are here” collection mugs from Starbucks for different states and cities. I used to try to get a mug like that from every conference that I went to. I think the one that started the collection is still the most special. It was for a conference I went to in Hong Kong while in graduate school.
What’s the biggest disaster you’ve had in the lab?
I realized a chemical I was using was burning through my gloves. I felt some wetness and then I realized my glove was disintegrating. I took the glove off right away, ran my hand under water for a while, and it wasn’t too bad. But I did have that moment of trying not to panic and thinking: this is exactly what they warn you about in those safety videos.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Outreach and mentorship are important to me. I see myself in an academic setting, but exactly what type of setting I’m not yet sure. I feel like I should have a better answer because ten years is not so far away, but subtracting ten years from now I was just learning what a scientist was. A lot can happen in ten years. I hope to be doing something that can help train the next generation of scientists.
Communications and Public Affairs