Heather McCauley.Hometown: Mission Viejo, California
Undergraduate Institution: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

My favorite class in college, at the University of Southern California, was Developmental Biology – my final biology elective in my senior year. I knew I enjoyed research; I worked in a lab for nearly three years studying insulin resistance and fatty acid metabolism in skeletal muscle. I even thought I might go to graduate school, but was suffering from a lack of focus. That Developmental Biology class changed all that. For the first time in college, I felt invested in the lectures; I wanted to know what was going to happen next to a developing embryo, and why. I learned that so many signaling pathways activated in development are often again activated in diseases like cancer. I felt like I had so much to learn, and a PhD program was the next logical step.

Before I had even completed its application, I had a feeling about the MDB program at Cincinnati Children’s. It had focus as well as collaboration and boasted cutting-edge research settled snugly within a top children’s hospital. The first round of emails I received from the admissions director, faculty and staff were so warm and engaging that I immediately sensed that the research community at Cincinnati Children's was truly a family. This was directly at odds with so many other “umbrella” type programs which lacked a central theme and seemed impersonal and intimidating.

Midway through the interview day, I had decided that this was the program for me. Everyone, from the program directors down to first-year students, was welcoming and eager to answer any and all questions. What really impressed me (aside from the state-of-the-art laboratories) was the emphasis on translational research. The research conducted at Cincinnati Children's is done with the emphasis of changing the lives across the street at the hospital. I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to be a part of.

In my five years here, I have been exposed to groundbreaking science in a number of fields, attended seminars and had lunch with world-renowned scientists. I work in the lab of Dr. Geraldine Guasch, where I’m studying the role of TGFβ signaling in cellular differentiation and cancer.


McCauley, H. A. and Guasch, G. Serial orthotopic transplantation of epithelial tumors in single-cell suspension. Stem Cell Niche: Methods and Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol. 1035. 2013.