Q&A with graduate student Shannon Allen Whiles

Shannon Allen Whiles is pictured in the lab.

Graduate student Shannon Allen Whiles has been leading research at WSU that could lead to new treatments for a highly infectious bacteria, Francisella tularensis, that can cause severe illness and even death. Shannon recently completed a doctorate in Biomedical Sciences – Immunology and Infectious Diseases, a research-intensive program designed to train students in immunology, host-pathogen interactions, and population biology of bacterial, parasitic, and viral infectious diseases in animals and humans.

She was mentored by Dr. Tom Kawula, director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health and an infectious disease microbiologist with research programs focusing on how intracellular bacterial pathogens evade host defenses and survive and thrive in hostile animal host environments. 

Shannon recently took some time to answer questions about her research and experiences at WSU.

What are you researching at WSU?

I study mechanisms of Francisella tularensis pathogenesis by developing small molecules that indirectly control intracellular bacteria by inducing host immune mechanisms that kill the bacteria or by inhibiting host mechanisms that the bacteria require for growth or survival.

How has your mentor helped you?

My mentor has been very supportive of my growth. He allows me independence but is always available to help me if needed. He has also been instrumental in the confidence I have gained over the past five years.

Why did you decide to complete your doctorate at WSU?

Visitation weekend for the IID program displayed a cohort of friendly and collaborative scientists unlike any other university I visited. The care they seemed to put into welcoming students made me feel like my education and growth would be a priority. I also received a competitive offer with a generous donation from the Aven Foundation through ARCS and a traineeship in the NIH Protein Biotechnology Training Program.

What has been your favorite thing about WSU?

What brought me here has continued to be one of my favorite things about WSU. The environment is friendly, and professors and students are always willing to be helpful. I really appreciate the support I have received.

What about WSU has surprised you the most?

I was surprised by the NIH protein biotech program. In my experience, training outside of an academic track is quite rare. The quality of industry training and opportunities I have gotten out of the biotech program are invaluable.

What do you hope to do after graduate school?

I hope to go into industry studying drug development for difficult-to-treat pathogens.