Professor Klepac-Ceraj aspires to kindle students’ interest in microbiology

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Vanja Klepac-Ceraj has been on sabbatical this academic year, but taking a break from teaching does not mean she has not been busy.

“This year, I have been splitting my time between MIT and Wellesley College. About half of my time was spent at MIT as I work in the lab of my collaborator, Professor Tanja Bosak,” said Klepac-Ceraj. “The rest, I’m at Wellesley working and meeting with my research group. With two seniors working on their honors theses, I’ve been busy helping them complete their research.”

Indeed, Klepac-Ceraj spent her entire day at Wellesley during the Ruhlman Conference, as two seniors in her lab, Manjot Nagyal and Sophia Rowland, were presenting their research. Klepac-Ceraj’s lab focuses on microbes — tiny organisms that, in her words, “ruled this planet way before humans or any other eukaryotes did.” She and her student research assistants share enthusiasm for learning how different types of microbes in various microbial communities interact with one another and with their environment, whether that location is a lake or the human body.

Klepac-Ceraj first became attracted to microbiology when she was in high school working in a pharmaceutical lab. She later attended Beloit College in Wisconsin. However, as an undergraduate who majored in mathematics and molecular biology, she mostly focused on math and biological math since there were limited opportunities relating to microbiology available at Beloit College.

Her pathway to microbiology was hardly linear. After graduating from college, Klepac-Ceraj participated in the joint program between the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she pursued a Ph.D. in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a concentration in biological oceanography. Her interest in microbiology was reflected in her work, as she geared her study towards marine…

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