Loyola University Chicago

Interdisciplinary Honors Program

Dana Dahhan

From her first-year seminar to studying Biochemistry in Wisconsin: here is how Dana got to where she is today:

I had a fantastic honors program experience! I met my best friends through the honors program, picked up some faculty mentors, got some really sweet sweatshirts, and totally rehabbed my writing skills. My honors classes ran through the usual two-semester seminars, then Encountering Western Europe (w/ Dr. Posner), Encountering Latin America (w/ Dr. Sholar), Science & Society (Dr. Giaquinto), and the theology capstone. Science & Society was particularly useful. The course was on symmetry, and some chemistry majors & I (I’m a biochemistry major) did a presentation on symmetry in organic molecules. This knowledge of symmetry was foundational in my understanding of protein structure and crystallographic techniques during my first year of graduate school. 

That Honors Program overhauled my writing skills was certainly the most useful lesson. Before Loyola, I used way too many adjectives and was imprecise in my statements. Both of these make for poor science writing, and I would have far more work to do now if Honors hadn’t worked on my writing abilities first.

I graduated from Loyola in 2015 with a B.S. in Biochemistry, Magna Cum Laude. At Loyola, I’d picked up three research fellowships during my three years in a research lab with Dr. Ken Olsen (Biochemistry) and the Cassaretto Medal from the Dept. of Chemistry & Biochemistry upon graduation. I was the second author on a publication at this time.

I joined the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB) at UW-Madison in Fall of 2015. What attracted me to UW-Madison and IPiB was the incredible biochemical legacy of this institution and the happiness of its graduate students. When I accepted the offer from UW-Madison to join IPiB as a PhD student (there are no master’s programs in IPiB), the program was ranked 2nd in the country by U.S. News. I joined the lab of Dr. Sebastian Bednarek in the Department of Biochemistry—we study membrane trafficking pathways using Arabidopsis thaliana as our model organism. In the Spring of 2017, I passed my preliminary exam, which bumped me up to a PhD candidate—at this point, I need to satisfy my thesis committee’s publication requirements (and earn enough data!) to graduate. I am finishing my second and final semester as a TA and have been very active in the Student Faculty Liaison Committee, which is an IPiB student group that organizes community outreach, professional development opportunities, and recruiting (among other things). This year, I am the co-chair of Professional Development which has been extremely rewarding. I help provide essential connections between our current graduate students & post-docs and scientists in STEM policy, the biotech industry, and academia. I am also the recipient of a Steenbock Predoctoral Fellowship in Biochemistry for the 2018-2019 year, which is administered by the Dept. of Biochemistry at UW-Madison (yay!). 

I still have a long way to go though! I’m keeping my eye out for other funding opportunities and working as quickly as I can to gather data to earn my PhD. I anticipate this will take another 3-4 years.