Taghian Advocates For Versatility Of Biology Field

Danielle Taghian, a professor within the biology department, has always had a soft spot for the Red Line of the MBTA.

“I like to think my whole life was segmented into where I lived on the Red Line,” she said. “I grew up at the end of the Red Line at the Braintree stop, I went to college at Tufts University at the Davis Square stop, I went to graduate school at Harvard in Cambridge, and I worked at Massachusetts General Hospital at the MGH stop.”

Born and raised in nearby Braintree, Mass., her upbringing and academic career have been influenced by the city of Boston and its surrounding areas.
While science had always been her main focus in school, Taghian worked to find avenues to pursue other interests.

Middle school was a formative time for her, as it was at this time science journals were publishing articles about the development of new pharmaceutical “wonder drugs” manufactured to combat various diseases.

Many of the influential articles she had read were the results of the work of researchers at Tufts University. It was no wonder, then, that Taghian pursued her undergraduate studies at the same institution, receiving a double major in biology and English and successfully balancing her love of science with her interest in the humanities.

Taghian credits her parents for instilling a work ethic in her that has carried her through life. Growing up in a large family to Italian immigrant parents, who were not able to finish their own education, gave her the competitive edge to succeed.

“It was something that was understood,” she said. “If you were going to do something, you were going to work hard at it.”

This gave her the momentum to go directly into a Ph.D. program at the Harvard School of Public Health for cancer research following her undergraduate years at Tufts.

Taghian had initially seen herself as a researcher, but it was working at Massachusetts General Hospital that led to her serendipitous introduction to Boston College.

Molecular biology, a developing field at the time, was naturally appealing to Taghian as she researched DNA repair mechanisms and different radiation treatments for cancer.

Traditionally, diseases had only been researched at the cellular level—by delving deeper into the cell, scientists discovered that it was possible to treat diseases on a molecular basis. Treating diseases at their molecular core changed the way research was conducted as a whole, as it provided new perspectives on disease.

The demanding lifestyle of a researcher proved to be too much for Taghian, however, as personal commitments made balancing her time at home and at work more difficult. A coworker who had received her Ph.D. from BC recommended that she take up a position working part-time in a lab at the University. Taghian accepted and eventually began to teach several labs. It was then that she found her true calling for teaching.

“I knew that teaching was something that would mesh well with my personality,” she said. “It didn’t happen in a straightforward way, but I’m so glad that it happened.”

Looking back, Taghian realized the added benefits of being a teacher.

“If you are responsible for teaching, you can also do a lot of mentoring and advising,” she said. “You can give [the students] your suggestions and open their minds. In the end, they will find the affinity for what they’re really interested in.”

She advocates for the biology department and the versatility of studying in a field that is constantly on the vanguard of discovery.

“There are so many ways you can take the biology major and progress into different fields,” she said. “This major encompasses an unbelievable number of careers and gives you the foundation to further your education.”

She encourages other students to take advantage of their time at BC to pursue other passions, drawing inspiration from her own college experiences.
“You think you have all the time in the world when you’re in college, but that time can evaporate quickly,” she said. “I don’t think there’s another time in your life where you’re going to be [exposed to] such a wide breadth of classes.”

Taghian is optimistic for the future of biology and predicts future progress in research and development in the health field.

“I think about our genome and what we know about it,” she said. “Even though we have it sequenced now, we probably only know the tip of the iceberg. There are going to be new discoveries all the time.”

Taghian also believes that the student body has the potential to seek and find the answers to global issues.

“I think it’s clear that I love what I do, and I love being here at BC,” she said. “The student body is outstanding here. The interactions I have with students are among the highlights of my day.

“Every year I see a new population of wonderfully bright students, and it gives me so much faith in the future of the world. I see the beginnings of the solutions in the student body.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

November 9, 2014