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KC Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Hill, Ph.D. 05'

KC Alumna - Rachel Hill, Ph.D., transitions from STEM research to program management


Rachel Hill, Ph.D., then a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Animal Science, assists in extracting the uterus of a sheep to study prostaglandin biosynthesis in endometrial cells. (Submitted by Rachel Hill)



Rachel Hill, section manager with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education
Rachel Hill, section manager with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Rachel Hill, section manager with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

Rachel Hill, Ph.D., a section manager with Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), knows firsthand the value of gaining hands-on experience in STEM.


As an undergraduate, Hill interned at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she contributed to research efforts on the Xeroderma pigmentosum group G protein, or XPG, which was found to play a critical role in maintaining genome stability in human cells.


For Hill, the internship was a transformative experience.

“It changed the total trajectory of my professional path,” Hill recalled. “I realized the possibilities in research and the role I could play in pushing medicine forward.”


Conducting animal science research

Hill went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in biology from Knoxville College in 2005 and a doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, in 2011. After earning her Ph.D., she became a postdoctoral fellow with the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Science. There, her research focused on reproductive physiology, specifically looking at prostaglandin production of bovine endometrial cells.

Rachel Hill, Ph.D., then a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Animal Science, assists in extracting the uterus of a sheep to study prostaglandin biosynthesis in endometrial cells. (Submitted by Rachel Hill)


Following her postdoctoral appointment, Hill worked as a research associate/lab manager for UT’s Center for Wildlife Health, a joint position with UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine. As research associate, Hill initiated and completed projects that aimed to understand host/microbial interactions of zoonotic diseases in vivo. As lab manager, she coordinated projects among students and staff to reach research goals and was responsible for daily laboratory operations, purchasing and procedures.


Playing a part in workforce development

In October 2016, Hill joined ORISE STEM Workforce Development. In her role as section manager, she oversees multiple fellowship programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation.


Hill says one highlight of her job is the opportunity to work with federal sponsors to establish new research participation programs.

“The collaborative space during these engagements with sponsors always satisfies my science/research passion,” she said. “The ability to discuss research at a high level and bouncing ideas around on what a successful program will look like all under the confines of our ORISE contract is exciting.”

For Hill, it’s equally as gratifying to play a vital role in developing the next generation of STEM professionals.


“In my role at ORISE, I’m able to connect up-and-coming scientists to amazing opportunities embedded within federal agencies,” Hill said. “When these opportunities matriculate into full-time employment for the participant, I’m most satisfied. I think, ‘Wow, I’m really playing a significant role in the STEM workforce development process,’ and that feels nice.”

Giving back to the community

In her free time, Hill stays active in various STEM outreach efforts, sharing her knowledge and passion for science with the community.

She has implemented programs to help develop youth spiritually and increase STEM interest, and she is a frequent volunteer at her children’s schools to support STEM activities, serving as guest speaker and instructor. Hill also has served as a mentor for Maynard Elementary School’s STEMEquity program, which encourages girls to explore STEM fields and careers.


And, drawing on her background in microbiology, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Hill has served as a panelist on a webinar series sponsored by her national church organization to inform the community about the virus.


For young people interested in a career in STEM, her advice is simple: Don’t limit yourself.

“Even if the opportunity is not exactly what you want to do,” she said, “the door could lead to what you’re purposed to do.”


LISTEN: Rachel Hill talks about her career path, her experience as a postdoctoral scholar and her work with ORISE in this episode of the ORISE Featurecast, recorded in September 2021 as part of ORISE’s celebration of National Postdoc Appreciation Week.


Source: Oak Ridge Institute For Science And Education

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