Dr. Ignatoski has worked in HHMI, Radiation Oncology, Urology Surgery, General Surgery, Pediatric Surgery, MSE, and Pharmacology (current) She enjoys photography, especially of landscapes, and playing clarinet and saxophone. One of her passions is teaching science, especially to undergrads, grad students, and the community.


So what is your research on?

I do gut brain access research, some of it deals with infectious disease and some of it deals with depression and how the gut changes and gives you depression. So a couple of things, but the lab I work in is a neuroscience lab.

What led you to become a research faculty mentor?

I always liked teaching, when I was a grad student I started a program where the grad students went to local high schools to teach students about the different things in science at the time like HIV, the human gnome project, genetic engineering and stuff like that. I’ve had several students come back and say “ohhh you’re the reason why I want to do science!” so I thought helping students do science was cool and this is a cool program, so that’s how it worked out.

Do you remember how you heard about the program?

It was really new, a relatively new program and I remember a new faculty saying something about it, so I went and researched it and figured out what it was and I got a student.

Were you ever hesitant to see students get involved with your work?

No, I think they’re all able to do anything. I think you have to be flexible, I’ve had students that try the wet lab bench and they can’t get anything to work and they work with the animals and they’re in their zone - they can do anything with the animals. I have had several students like that. You have to be flexible in order to - oh you can’t do this? Well let’s try that.

How do students normally contribute to your work? What sort of role do they have?

I usually give them a big part if it. Like I’ll come up with the idea and be like “okay, do this.” I’ll show them how to do it a couple of times and then they’re on their own. I’ve had students that have gone from not knowing how to use a simple lab instrument to being first author on a paper.

What’s your mentorship style?

So I sit in the lab, I’m there were they are. We don’t really have a set meeting time, it’s mostly when they need clarification or something. I like to show them once or twice and then give them all the background that they would need and then have them kind of go with it. And if they come up with some good ideas (I encourage them) to try them.

Has a student ever took an idea you had and completely innovated on it?

Oh yeah, ohhh yeah -

You were open to that?

Definitely, because - it may not be working the other way, you might as well get a new idea in there that’s the whole purpose of having different people in labs, getting new ideas. I had a UROP student who came to me and said “cutting these intestines isn’t working this way, I found this thing online where they do this spiral with the intestines can I try it?” and I was like “go for it” (laughs).

Could you recall a time where you had a great experience with one of your own mentors? Someone who shaped your outlook on research...

Sureee, I had a really good mentor as a Master’s student and I still keep in touch with her. She showed me what battles to pick and how to go to bat for one of my student and when to tell them look this isn’t working out or whatever. I actually went back and did a short postdoc with her while I was transitioning some life things, so it was really good to watch that kind of thing. 

Where did you get your PhD from?

I got my PhD from the Hershey Medical Center, so that’s Penn State’s medical school

Did your mentors instill anything in you that you try to practice with your mentees today?

Going to bat for them, kind of how to train them but stay hands-off and also learn from mentors who weren’t as good at it and learn from what they’ve done. So I don’t agree with where you just give them something to do and not give them any background, I think they need some background as to why they’re doing what they’re doing and that kind of helps them along with thinking what to do next. They don’t need the full background at first because they’re not gonna understand it. So I kind of back off that and just give them the general information about what we’re doing and as they progress give them more information. I find that when you’re first telling them how to do something, they’re with you, but when they go to do their posters is when they really understand it.

What do you enjoy most about being a research mentor?

A couple things. The relationship with the student is always kind of cool. The - “Aha” moments (laughs). Students who come in and are committed to medicine and nothing else - I like opening their eyes to science and what it could do for you.

If you could give a piece of advice to a current UROP student what would it be?

Depends on the student. Someone who’s doing it strictly to go to Med school  I would say open your mind. Don’t pick a lab solely for the prestige, pick a lab you’re going to have fun in, otherwise it’s going to be too hard. Because a lot of the people with prestige are trying to keep prestige and they won’t have as much time for you. It’s better to have a relationship with the mentor than to just be a pair of hands for them.