Cecelia Harold

Written by Shriyaa Mittal, PhD

Cecelia Harold is a PhD candidate in Genetics at Yale University and is studying long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) regulators of ribosome biogenesis. Cecelia obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology alongside a minor in Art History from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Before entering a PhD program, she worked as a Research Technician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and characterized strains of viruses such as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Bunyamwera orthobunyavirus (BUNV). Cecelia credits her journey in large part to her first advisor, Dr. Kasandra Riley who is committed to making STEM education and careers accessible to a wider pool of students. “Dr. Riley not only has a research lab at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) where she continues to churn out quality scientific research, but she also transformed the biochemistry training that undergraduates receive at my Alma Mater, Rollins College, with evidence-based pedagogy to best support students looking to major in biology or chemistry.”

A sense of collaboration and collegiality drew Cecelia to Yale’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences program. She recognized that working with the program’s collaborative faculty would allow her to answer questions that push toward progress. At a poster session, Cecilia met a graduate student in the Baserga Lab who was studying ribosomes, something she herself had never previously considered studying. The possibility to explore something new excited her! Mentorship from the lab members was also key for Cecelia in choosing the Baserga Lab at Yale University for her graduate work. She remembers, “During my rotation, all of the current graduate and postbaccalaureate students took an active role in training me on the techniques and field since I hadn’t studied ribosomes before. I appreciated the collegiality my fellow trainees had for one another and that we shared the same rigorous ethics and standards for mentorship.” Currently, Cecelia is most excited about her project focused on an unbiased screen for lncRNA regulators of ribosome biogenesis. “lncRNAs are really fascinating (and frustrating!) because of how little we know of their individual functions in the cell. The project has really expanded my repertoire of skills and knowledge, and it’s cool being on a truly discovery-based endeavor.”

Cecelia recognizes that doing benchwork, giving presentations, compiling progress reports, and writing papers is hard physical and mental work. For her personally, health problems can limit day-to-day activities and a global pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. On overcoming her challenges, Cecelia says, “the things that keep me going are the genuine love I feel for discovering new things, no matter how insignificant they seem, and remembering how proud my family was when I received my acceptance letter to Yale.” She believes that graduate school can be difficult and isolating and hence maintaining a solid support network of family and/or friends is crucial. She recommends doing at least one enjoyable thing that is completely outside of lab work and science as a way to stay balanced during challenging stretches.

Beyond studying lncRNAs in the lab, Cecelia is involved in a variety of scientific and professional development activities. She just completed a three-year term as the “Professional Development/Mentorship Chair” for the Yale SACNAS chapter, where she implemented and oversaw a mentoring program for graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds. Cecelia is a Writing Fellow for the Graduate Writing Lab at the Poorvu Center for Teaching & Learning working with students on their fellowship applications, teaching writing workshops, and leading writing retreats. She is also the newly elected co-Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine - a PubMed-indexed, open access, peer-reviewed, quarterly journal since 1928 which is edited by Yale medical, graduate, and professional students. “... my overarching goal for science as a field is to be as inclusive as possible. I come from a working-class family and when I first got to graduate school, I had no idea what I should be doing. Taking what I’ve learned and being able to make the path easier to travel for those who come after me is all I want to do.” Cecelia embodies placing value on good actions and strives to make STEM a more welcoming place for everyone with her many volunteering roles. She also devotes her free time caring for animals at the Greater New Haven Cat Project!

Giving an example of forming connections virtually during covid-19, Cecelia narrates, “I attended 2021 RNA Society Meeting virtually and as I was waiting for people to populate my table, Dr. Jessica Silva-Fisher, my poster-neighbor, came over to say hello and we were able to talk about our work. We both study lncRNAs!”

Her favorite RNA is the small yet mighty microRNA and her favorite journal article is, Association of Argonaute proteins and microRNAs can occur after cell lysis.