Dr. Karole N. D’Orazio

by Dr. Estefanía Sánchez-Vásquez

We all agree that starting a postdoc during COVID times is difficult. Dr. Karole N. D’Orazio is rising to meet this challenge with great enthusiasm. As a first-year postdoc in Professor Danesh Moazed’s lab (Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA), Dr. D’Orazio is exploring the interaction of RNA with polycomb group proteins and the role of this interaction in mammals throughout differentiation. Polycomb group proteins have been studied for decades and they are deposit histone modifications throughout development. However, the function of their interactions with RNA during differentiation remains unknown. Dr. D’Orazio is passionate about her work to understand the normal function of polycomb-RNA interactions and how polycomb patterning is distorted in cancer.

Dr. D’Orazio began studying RNA biology during her Master’s degree, but her love for RNA really developed throughout her PhD training. Mentored by Dr. Rachel Green (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD), she studied how mRNA levels are regulated through translation. During this time, she became more aware of the incredible network of overlapping regulatory pathways involved in surveilling mRNAs. Inspired by this complexity, Dr. D’Orazio aims to continue studying the many functions of RNA. During her PhD she also learned that fearlessly doing experiments was not enough and that science was often advanced through work away from the lab bench. For example, she learned how to brainstorm project ideas, and think critically about new data. However, D’Orazio believes that the most valuable thing that she learned was how to learn from other people.

Dr. D’Orazio advises trainees to: “Surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed and do this early on.” She is extremely grateful to all the amazing mentors she had in her career so far. Her PI during her Master’s, Dr. Ed Luk (SUNY Stony Brook), genuinely wanted her to pursue her goals to become a scientist. Dr. D’Orazio remembers how he patiently guided her through the application process for PhD programs. Further, throughout her PhD, some of her most valuable moments happened outside of lab. For example, two amazing yeast geneticists, Dr. Grant Brown (University of Toronto) and Dr. Brendan Cormack (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), helped her execute her projects and have helped guide her career tremendously, simply because they believed in her and want to help young scientists succeed.

“I’d like to emphasize the benefits of coming from a unique upbringing because although you may feel different, those differences can make you great.”

Coming from a Long Island-based Italian family with seven siblings, Dr. D’Orazio is a first-generation college student. She takes a lot of pride in her background - not only for herself, but for her family. In her own words: “The support of my parents and my siblings throughout my education is what got me to where I am today. They never doubted my abilities, even when I doubted myself the most.” Partially due to her background, imposter syndrome has been one of D’Orazio’s greatest challenges. For example, casual conversations in academia were not so casual for her. “Education was strongly emphasized in my family, but [our] conversations at the dinner table were much different than what you find at a happy hour at top tier research institutes.” However, she quickly realized that many people in academia wanted her to succeed. As she found support and love, she adapted and now enjoys National Public Radio in her car. Scientifically, she is thankful that her graduate school mentors that constantly reinforced the message that she belonged and that she is good enough. Thanks to the supportive mentoring environment during her career, she not only feels comfortable, but confident. Importantly for other scientists with non-traditional backgrounds out there, she also mentions: “I’d like to emphasize the benefits of coming from a unique [and atypical] upbringing because although you may feel different, those differences can make you great”. 

Dr. D’Orazio is also very proud of belonging to the RNA Society, where she has found a great network of people. One of her more memorable experiences happened at a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposium on RNA Control and Regulation. At this symposium she experienced incredible keynotes by eminent scholars and RNA Society members including Prof. Jennifer Doudna. She also had the opportunity to experience another part of academia with another mentor of hers: Prof. Geraldine Seydoux. Since no other member of her lab attended, she was pushed to go out of her comfort zone. Dr. Seydoux helped her meet other people and discussed about ideas and talks presented in the symposium.  This meeting had an outsized effect on her since discussing those talks with incredible RNA biologists helped her feel like an independent scientist.

You can find her on Twitter as @dorkarole