Congratulations to Shaylyn Clancy, Recipient of an NIH F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award

Shaylyn Clancy was awarded an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F31) individual predoctoral fellowship from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in December 2022. Shaylyn is currently a fourth year PhD candidate in Dr. Xiaowei Lu’s lab in the Cell Biology department. Her research is focused on understanding what guides type II spiral ganglion neuron (SGN) axons to find their targets in the cochlea. She notes that our sense of hearing is dependent on the spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) which transmit sound information from the cochlea to the brain for processing. When planar cell polarity signaling is disrupted, type II SGN afferents turn randomly toward the cochlear base or apex. However, the underlying mechanisms by which planar cell polarity signaling directs this turning pattern are unknown. Shaylyn’s research is focused on determining what may be acting downstream of the planar cell polarity pathway to guide these afferents. Specifically, she is investigating adhesion molecules and Rho GTPases as potential downstream effectors. She has found several of these candidates to be necessary for proper type II SGN afferent guidance. She hopes her research will lead to a better understanding of auditory development and general axon guidance mechanisms. When asked what motivates her scientific pursuits, Shaylyn indicated that, due to her history with chronic illness, she has experienced firsthand how impactful medical advances can be on one’s quality of life. She highlights that medical advances are possible because of scientists working to understand how the body develops and functions at a fundamental level. Recognizing that she loves to learn, think critically, and try new things, she determined that biomedical research is the ideal way she can contribute to the foundational knowledge base on which medical treatments are created. She was especially drawn to the inner ear because of how beautiful and intricate the hair cells and neurons are. She also highlighted that her projects involve a lot of microscopy that keeps her work colorful and visually appealing, such that sometimes it feels a lot more like art than science. Outside of the lab, Shaylyn is the co-founder of Queer in Medical Sciences (QIMS) at UVA, music director for a STEM graduate student acappella group, and a volunteer copy editor and reviewer for the Journal of Emerging Investigators, a scientific journal and mentorship program for middle and high school students. She is passionate about making science into a more inclusive and equitable space and showing children and young adults that they can be themselves and still be a scientist. Shaylyn is still exploring different career options and has not yet decided what exactly she wants to do next. However, she definitely wants to have a career where she never stops learning, where she can play a role in supporting people from marginalized populations, and where she can exercise creativity in her work. Whether that career lies in academia, industry, or elsewhere is still undecided.