Daniel Salas-Escabillas is a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the University of Michigan's Cancer Biology Ph.D. Training Program. Learn more about their scientific journey and what they're doing now.
They were born and raised in Guam and Daniel is a Native CHamoru from the island. Before going to The University of Michigan and after their bachelor's program, Daniel was selected to participate in the Medical University of South Carolina's Postbac Research Education Program (PREP). Daniel completed their Bachelor of Science at the University of Guam with a strong passion for cancer treatments due to the poor health infrastructure of Guam and other Pacific Islands. Mortality and incidence are much higher in some cancers among Pacific Islanders than in other racial/ethnic groups and Daniel hopes to reduce this through research and implementation of new treatments and understanding of cancer. Daniel currently works with Dr. Howard Crawford to determine the racial disparities within pancreatic cancer. They also work on understanding more about specialized cells in Pancreatic cancer that are only present during the progression of the disease.
Daniel also has founded several Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and works to improve other projects with the help of other underrepresented groups. Because Pacific islanders make up less than 1% of most STEM fields and education programs, it is important to Daniel to improve DEI to increase the representation of Pacific islanders and other underrepresented groups.
What has been a low point or challenge in your scientific journey and what helped you overcome it?
When I first applied to Graduate school, I did not get in. I only applied to one school and I didn't really know exactly what to look for in a program. This was a hard thing to overcome and I wondered if this was even the right path for me to take. I was very passionate about Cancer Biology and I really wanted to do my part to not only understand more about the disease but also to provide better and more affordable treatments for my people and other underrepresented groups in medicine. Thanks to my mentor, Dr. Timothy Righetti, I was determined to keep going. I applied to PREP and was able to finish the MUSC PREP program with surprising results. I was able to present my work at the 2017 ABRCMS with my PREP program. This program and its directors in 2017, Drs. Laura Kasman, Cynthia F. Wright, and Sue Hennigan, helped me better understand what I wanted out of a program and a mentor. It also further confirmed my passion for Cancer Biology thanks to my PREP mentor, Dr. Chrystal Paulos. I applied to 14+ schools and got interviews and then offers from all of them! In the end, I chose the program that was best for me, and now am in a wonderful lab doing what I love with Dr. Howard Crawford!
What is something about science or your current work that you find fascinating or motivating?
The most motivating thing about my work is not only the scientists and their passion for their work but also the patients who inspire us to do better research. I really enjoy answering questions or providing any insight into the work we do. Another aspect of that is mentoring others who are interested in pursuing biomedical research as a career option and being another person to help us understand these diseases more so we can better treat them. The perseverance of scientists and the patients is really something to behold and every time I am feeling down about something I always think of the people I am helping immediately and down the line with our work.