Q&A with Rebekah Loving
This Q&A is part of the Inspiring Islanders series.
ASP: Can you tell me a little bit about your research as an Amgen Scholar?
Loving: During my time as an Amgen Scholar at the UC Berkeley, I have been working with Priya Moorjani’s lab, which focuses on evolutionary biology and population genetics. I have been developing and implementing a pipeline for reliably estimating the germline mutation rate in primates.
ASP: What has been your favorite part of the Amgen Scholars Program?
Loving: I have two favorite parts. My first favorite part was when I was able to really discuss the issues of the field with my mentor and critically discuss how to improve methods, as I was in a field completely new to me. I discovered how my works methods are related to studying the mutations leading to disease over time.
My second favorite part is actually connected to the part of my time at UC Berkeley that was one of the hardest for me, the homelessness and mental illness on the streets. I’d had dinner with a group of colleagues and friends, and we’d said farewell to our friend who was leaving for a software engineering job in Sweden. As a close to the night, someone proposed getting ice cream. Before leaving, we took the leftover food from our dinner and made up plates to pass out along the way and spoke with various hungry homeless on the streets. It was the second or third time I’d been able to give to the homeless in Berkeley; on that night, the ability to really share with them and reignite the connectedness of humanity was beautiful to me.
ASP: Can you share a bit about your background?
Loving: I come from a small, old sugar cane plantation village on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii with a population of a little more than five hundred. This cove of Hawaii was known as “Little Chicago” by some on the island, as it was riddled with drug abuse, broken families, youth, and adults on the wrong side of law.
In contrast, my home, in the midst of this, sheltered 12 homeschooled children and loving parents. For as long as I can remember, my family and I have been involved in building up the lives of those around us. I’m still connected with several of the children I have mentored and tutored over the years in my home neighbourhood. As I’ve branched out into different realms of the world, academically and culturally, I hope to always bring back the best to my people to encourage their growth and fight the stagnation that so often occurs.
ASP: What has the transition been like moving from your home institution in Hawaii to a large campus environment in college at UC Berkeley?
Loving: From Hawaii to Berkeley, I moved from a school of roughly 4,000 students to one exceeding 40,000 students, and from a place where research is of interest to a school where research and innovation is central. The diversity and accessibility of expertise was striking at UC Berkeley. I was able to talk to people in the computer science and mathematics departments, while working in the molecular and cellular biology department. I was able to interact with epidemiologists, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and biologists all in the course of a day as I went about my research and associated meetings.
ASP: What got you first interested in science?
Loving: I can’t remember a time that I didn’t ask science-related questions; I was innately curious about the way things worked and what would happen if variables were changed. My oldest brother was called a walking encyclopedia at times, and I loved to pry him with questions, from how a fan and its motor worked to the inner-workings of genetics.
I’m always encountering the fact that STEM is placed on a sort of pedestal to be almost idolized in its difficulty. I think, if we could break down this perception of science and instead realize the humanity of science, we could make so much progress in both popular understanding and embracing of learning and the adventure and benefits of science.
ASP: What got you first interested in bioscience?
Loving: When I was 11, I became very interested in prosthetics. After school hours, I would help care for a young boy, who was born with both physical and developmental disabilities. I wondered how he could be helped, and if the prosthesis he used could be improved. I soon became intrigued by the retina and advances in prosthetics related to blindness.
By the time I was 15, my interests had shifted more towards proteins and the power of studying DNA. I considered being a doctor, but then and, to this day, I discovered that I really enjoy working in computer science and mathematics while learning and applying my skills to biological and medical questions. I need my work and what I spend my time doing to impact and improve lives; I see biosciences as a channel for doing exactly that.
ASP: What are your goals for after undergrad?
Loving: I’m currently in the process of applying to graduate programs. I hope to eventually work as a researcher either at a university, research institute, or biomedical/pharmaceutical company.
ASP: How has Amgen Scholars affected those goals?
Loving: The program has allowed me to see a new side of work in the biomedical industry. By discussions with Amgen scientists and visiting and interacting with various facilities, employees, and leaders of the company, I found that I might be very happy working as part of these teams to improve the quality of life of masses of people.
ASP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Loving: I love science, and I’m passionate about what I do. However, I’m always encountering the fact that STEM is placed on a sort of pedestal to be almost idolized in its difficulty. I think, if we could break down this perception of science and instead realize the humanity of science, we could make so much progress in both popular understanding and embracing of learning and the adventure and benefits of science. I don’t find science easy; I find it intriguing; I know it’s worth fighting for.