Research dreams fulfilled

During her time at Carolina, Abigail Rohy found her passion for lab research. After graduation, she'll be heading to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

Abi Rohy in her cap and gown
Abigail Rohy in the Mohlke Lab. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Graduating senior Abigail Rohy came to Carolina to become a scientist, and her years in the classroom and work in the Mohlke Lab as an undergraduate researcher have prepared her to do just that.

“I knew even in middle school that I was interested in science and wondered what I could do with the subject as an adult,” Rohy says. “When looking at colleges, I applied to schools where I would be able to do research, which is how I found Carolina and the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program.”

Rohy enrolled at Carolina as a Chancellor’s Science Scholar, a program that encourages students underrepresented in the sciences to explore their STEM interests while engaging them in a community of collaboration. The program offers merit-based scholarships, opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research, professional development, leadership training and mentorship.

“As an out-of-state student, the community aspect has been valuable because I had a group of people I already knew coming into my first year, and we’ve had so many classes together ever since,” Rohy says.

Rohy began taking science courses in her first year at Carolina and became a biochemistry major. Looking to put her studies into practice, she applied to be an undergraduate research assistant in Karen Mohlke’s lab, where they study human genetics of cardiometabolic traits and diseases.

“In my work in the lab, I focus on identifying protein interactions within the insulin processing and secretion pathway for Type 2 diabetes,” Rohy says. “I set up experiments and run them in addition to getting the chance to work on presentations.”

In the lab, Rohy has learned technical skills imperative to run experiments and how to follow scientific inquiry, tools she will apply in a future career in research. She also found community in the lab and credits the mentorship she received for her success as a student.

“I have these extremely strong women that I work with in science who have been through this path before and can help me along the way, and who have been a huge part in my growth as a scientist and my application process for graduate school,” Rohy says.

One of her mentors, Ph.D. candidate and Mohlke Lab researcher Victoria Parsons, said of Rohy, “I have watched Abi grow into a capable scientist who is eager to engage with both the material and those around her. Her hard work on her research projects will contribute to two publications where she will be listed as an author. I’ll miss having her in the lab, but I’m very excited to see what she does in graduate school and beyond!”

After graduation, Rohy will move to Texas to start a biochemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Austin and begin to conduct her own independent research.

“I want to keep pursuing research that deals with proteins within disease-relevant pathways, whether that be diabetes or cancer or any other thing that really affects human life,” Rohy says. “And overall, I want to conduct my own research and ask my own independent questions, whether that be staying within academia or working as part of something larger in industry.”

Although she’s looking forward to continuing her studies and pursuing her research interests, Rohy says she’ll miss the community she built at Chapel Hill with fellow Chancellor’s Science Scholars and mentors in her lab.

“One thing I’ll miss is a sense of community because I think the pride that everyone has for Carolina is something so special,” Rohy says. “Being from out of state, it’s a great feeling to see someone out and about with a Carolina shirt on and have a connection or meet alumni and instantly have something in common. There’s this communal feeling when you meet another Tar Heel, and I get to bring that with me.”