Drive to discover

Ph.D. student’s lifelong love of science flourishes in the lab

Drive to discover

Ph.D. student’s lifelong love of science flourishes in the lab

Linda Archambault has taken a long, winding path to becoming a biochemistry Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maine. She’s learned more about her career field — and herself — with every step.

“Studying science is the most natural thing I could do. The pertinent question isn’t what drives me now, it’s what held me back until now — my belief that I couldn’t do what I’m doing now, that I wasn’t capable or that I wouldn’t be allowed to,” says Archambault. “The motivation has always been there.”

“I was a curious child, especially about the natural world. I grew up on a farm and spent most of my time outdoors in the fields, vineyard and woods,” says Archambault, who was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, moved to Bowdoinham, Maine with her family at age 16, then moved to Wales, Maine a year later.

Archambault earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Bates College and worked for a year at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, before earning a master’s degree in biology at Boston University in 1986.

When Archambault returned to Maine to start a family, she took a hiatus from science. But her lifelong passion soon drew her back in; she worked with other women scientists at the Lobster Conservancy and then at Bates, where she was a research assistant in biochemistry with Paula Schlax. Both experiences helped her regain confidence.

“Here at UMaine I’ve learned so much — the science, of course, but also so much about myself and what it takes to succeed.” Linda Archambault

“They trusted me to do the work and were happy with the work I did. That helped me to trust myself and my abilities. I finally felt safe again and my love of science flourished,” she says.

And Schlax introduced her to UMaine’s Rob Wheeler, an associate professor of microbiology and director of the Wheeler Lab. In the Wheeler Lab, Archambault uses zebrafish as a model to study how the human immune system responds to fungal infections, specifically fungi of the genus Candida and how it can become a pathogen.

She seeks to discover the host-pathogen interactions responsible for containment of Candida infection at mucosal barriers. She hypothesizes that signaling between epithelial cells and immune cells prevents Candida, an opportunistic pathogen, from infecting healthy individuals, while damage to epithelial cells leads to signals for the immune system to attack Candida.

Research discoveries could inform the development of new treatment options, an important takeaway that makes her work fulfilling.

“I’m at my happiest when I’m feeling my most useful,” she says.

“Her years as a teacher and time as a research technician at Bates have given her an amazing ability to mentor students and bring out their best,” says Wheeler. “Her previous work in science also gave her a strong foundation of confidence and knowledge that allowed her to hit the ground running. She has been an invaluable member of the lab and a productive scientist, and has a great career ahead of her.”

Archambault recently was selected as a teaching assistant for an internationally recognized practical course on fungal infectious diseases at the Marine Biological Laboratory. She also was selected to receive the Janet Waldron Doctoral Research Fellowship for the 2018–19 year, which she says will give her the opportunity to take a break from teaching and focus on research.

“Here at UMaine I’ve learned so much — the science, of course, but also so much about myself and what it takes to succeed,” says Archambault. “The very best thing is to be taken seriously as a scientist. I’m very optimistic about the future of science now that the other 50 percent of the population has been given a place at the lab bench.”

After defending her thesis in spring 2019, Archambault plans to become a postdoctoral researcher.

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