Karmella Haynes, PhD

"Encouragement and support are certainly an important part of creating a good work environment for women."

This Women's History Month, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University asked four Winship women faculty members to share their perspectives on working at Winship and advice for other women in the workforce.

Karmella A. Haynes, PhD, is a member of the Cell and Molecular Biology research program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and an associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. Haynes was recently appointed to the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a federal advisory committee dedicated to solving problems related to biosecurity at the request of the United States Government.

What do you love about your job?

I love having the opportunity to apply synthetic biology to problems that are as difficult and important as targeted breast cancer therapy. When I was first introduced to synthetic biology as an epigenetics graduate student, the field was very theoretical and had not yet grown much beyond bacterial biology. Thanks to the growth of the synthetic biology community and new technologies, I can research the intersection of human epigenetics with protein engineering and cancer. I love being able to mentor trainees in such a fast-paced, creative and exciting area.

Which female public figure (past or present) inspires you and why?

Lately, I have been very inspired by Marie M. Daly, the first Black woman to earn a PhD in chemistry in the United States. Her work laid the foundation for what we now understand about how proteins called histones carry epigenetic information that often determines how genes are expressed in cells, including cancer cells. I get chills imagining how exciting it must have been when her results started to emerge and unlock mysteries buried deep down inside the nuclei of living cells. She determined that lysine is a major component of histones, and that this feature is evolutionarily conserved across organisms. We are developing a new protein-based tool named in her honor: DAL-E (Dpn Adaptor Linked Effector).

How can one create a good work environment for women colleagues in the workplace?

Encouragement and support are certainly an important part of creating a good work environment for women. Also, we need to make sure that roadblocks and discrimination do not impede the wonderful work that women colleagues are achieving. We should stand up for women as advocates and should be prepared and able to neutralize mechanisms of discrimination.

Do you have advice for other women scientists early in their career? What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you have learned since then?

I currently remind women scientists that we belong in this space. When marginalization is internalized, it can have a real impact on your work. Controlled experiments have shown that self-doubt increases nervousness and negatively impacts performance in thought-based tasks, even in people who are capable of performing well. Having a team of supporters and mentors and being transparent and vulnerable when you are having trouble are critical for success.

Photo of Karmella Haynes, PhD

Winship cancer biologist, Karmella Haynes, PhD, talks
about who inspires her work in cancer biology, and
shares advice for early career women scientists.

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