Southeast Alumni Twila Mason Working Towards Ph.D



 “I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life very early on,” says Twila Mason. “Of course, my mind changed several times, but each thing in which I was interested involved helping people and the unknown. I became interested in medical research after seeing a TV special featuring St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That day, I decided to go into biomedical research.”

Today, she’s working at Vanderbilt and planning to receive her Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology. Mason was awarded a Cellular, Biochemical and Molecular Sciences training grant and is currently applying for the American Heart Association Pre-doctoral Fellowship grant. She’s studying a protein called AKAP350, which acts as a scaffold inside the cell holding many proteins in close proximity.

“This creates a type of ‘command post’ for intracellular signaling. Cell signaling is very important during stress responses, so I am examining the role of AKAP350 in those responses,” she explains.

She’s also investigating a new chemotherapeutic that is more potent but has less side effects.

“We’re investigating the mechanisms through which the drug kills cancer cells and leaves other cells unharmed.”
Once her Ph.D. is complete, she hopes to become a laboratory or project manager or a principal investigator of a medical research laboratory likely in a research university setting. Mason holds degrees in biology and chemistry from Southeast, and she says she was as sure about the University as she was about her field of study.

“Southeast was the obvious choice for me. I did apply to other schools, but I chose Southeast because of the quality of education you get for the price. The other university I was considering cost more in one year than my entire education at Southeast, and I feel I got a better education than I would have at the other university,” she says.

Mason attributes her quality education to the professors she studied under at Southeast.

“I have to thank Dr. James Champine and Dr. Bruce Hathaway for their mentoring during my years at Southeast. The majority of my research experience was in Dr. Champine’s laboratory. Because of my time in his lab, I will always have a love for microbiology. He devotes a lot of his time to his students.”

Most importantly, Mason feels it is those experiences that make the difference for Southeast grads.

“Southeast offers many great opportunities to students,” she says. “I was able to get real research experience in both biology and chemistry. When I was interviewing at graduate schools, I was among people who had gone to schools like Harvard, Duke, Princeton, John’s Hopkins and Yale for their undergraduate education. I felt proud to be from Southeast and be an equal among students from much larger and more expensive institutions. I feel the reason I was there and stood out enough to be accepted above others is because of the opportunities I had at Southeast. I was a competitive graduate school applicant because of my extensive research experience. I don’t think I would have been as prepared if I had gone somewhere else.”