Self-Care and Science with Prof. Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert

By Erin Matheson ‘18
Science Columnist

Professor Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert is a Keck Science Faculty member. She participated in the LASPA Center for Leadership’s “Up For Discussion” panel, “Steps to Becoming a Woman Leader in Science” on Monday, Nov. 2, and offered a distinct perspective on self-care in an involved and rigorous STEM career.  Self-care is important in all phases of life--and especially relevant in college juggling classes, extracurriculars, work, and the social scene. Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services has a five week waiting list, suggesting Scripps and 5C students, including STEM majors, need to prioritize their self-care. Edwalds-Gilbert offers sage advice on balancing everything from her scientific achievements to projects to daily life.
“Self-care is a learning process and I can’t say I have been a particularly good model for how to do it well,” said Edwalds-Gilbert, but she has figured out a methodology that works for her. 

For her, regular and varied exercise is critical.  Edwalds-Gilbert also has “a great support system, from colleagues with whom I can rely on for guidance and sharing experiences, to an identical twin whom I speak with almost daily.”

Professors such as Edwalds-Gilbert, similar to many Scripps students, struggle to find a balance.  For her, taking care of everyone else and work obligations have always come before self-care, but now that Professor Edwards-Gilbert is in treatment for cancer, she has been forced to adjust and practice self-care. Edwalds-Gilbert said, “I hope that I can take some of what I have been learning while ill and apply it to when I am well again, incorporating self-care into my routine.”

Exercise and eating right are very important for overall well-being.  When students are overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do for classes, for extra-curricular activities, and for their jobs, they should step back, reevaluate their schedules, and see where they can squeeze in even 30 minutes of some type of exercise, suggests Edwalds-Gilbert. The best is to put it on their schedules so it is part of their routine. Keeping a balanced diet is trickier, since many studies have shown that people are hungrier and hungrier for not as nutritious food when they are tired.

The other key to self-care is to learn where the sources of support are, which will vary for each person. “You might have a friend with whom you can vent about stress, or you may find a professional resource, such as a therapist or chaplain, more helpful. You may find having alone, quiet time most valuable,” suggests Edwalds-Gilbert.  “The important thing is to take the time to figure out what works for you, and then add the self-care to an already busy schedule.”

Edwalds-Gilbert, who studies how cells regulate gene expression in her research lab at Keck, does have a very busy schedule. Seven students, including a CMC alumn lab technician work in the lab.  She uses the model eukaryotic organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or budding yeast for her two research projects. One project looks at how organisms respond to stress, specifically phenol stress. Cells have to be able to respond to stress or they won’t survive, and not much is known about how these common phenols affect cells. Some of this work is collaborative with Keck Professor Irene Tang’s lab.  

Another area of research examines gene expression, specifically how cells modify RNA through processing steps to create a mature RNA molecule that the cell can use. With these two research projects, Edwalds-Gilbert is a very busy woman who demonstrates she knows how to manage her packed schedule. Mistakes in these steps are associated with many human diseases, and understanding how proteins achieve the correct processing is critical to understanding how mistakes may occur. Edwalds-Gilbert’s lab focuses on a specific protein that uses energy from ATP hydrolysis to unwind RNAs or RNA-protein complexes.  

Edwalds-Gilbert is a very accomplished woman, and her advice on self-care can go a long way when it comes to Scripps student’s well-being.