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Graduate Student Highlight: Kara Pytko

2 March 2021
Kara Pytko

Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing important work around the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Kara Pytko, who is a second year student in the Hedglin group.

The Hedglin lab studies DNA replication errors using biophysical techniques such as FRET. Kara’s project specifically focuses on investigating the mechanisms of difficult-to-replicate sequences (DiToRS) in genomic instability. 

Outside of the lab, Kara was an outreach delegate for the Graduate Student Association (GSA) during 2020. During her term as a delegate, she participated in the Virtual Scientist initiative, a live webinar series in which chemistry graduate students performed various science demos for parents and teachers so that they felt comfortable teaching their children science from home. In February 2021, Kara was elected to the position of external liaison on the GSA board, which entails strengthening and maintaining relationships between GSAs at Penn State, communicating department news via social media, and planning social events each semester. She also recently joined a committee that focuses on celebrating women in STEM and provides monthly Zoom events (featuring alumni and other special guests) to encourage women who are majoring in STEM to pursue their dreams and go forward with confidence. In addition to this important work, Kara also serves as a mentor to two first year graduate students.

This week, we met virtually with Kara to discuss her life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Kara Pytko.

Question: How did you get interested in chemistry? 
Answer: Born a naturally curious person, I was always interested in science and loved challenging myself. Not quite sure what I wanted to do with my love of science, I was originally a biology major in undergrad. After taking organic chemistry, I found my passion for this field and decided to broaden my skill set by changing my major to biochemistry. 
Q: What inspires you as a scientist? 
A: What inspires me is knowing that there are so many mysteries in the world just waiting to be discovered! I’d love to contribute something new and exciting to my research field (biophysical chemistry).
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: This was a long time ago, but I think my proudest accomplishment is graduating high school as the valedictorian. I accomplished this goal of mine by implementing a great deal of self discipline and hard work. 
Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in a small town called Pottsville, PA (the home of Yuengling Beer)!
Q: Do you have any hobbies?

A: I love the outdoors, so anything adventurous like hiking, riding four-wheelers, kayaking, etc.! I also have zero dance experience, but I LOVE to dance!
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: I adopted a cockapoo from the SPCA named Sophia!
Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?

A: I have a hard time sitting around and doing nothing, so I would ideally like to keep busy all day (maybe go sight-seeing, try new restaurants) and be with friends! 
Q: What’s your dream vacation? 

A: My dream vacation would be a trip to the Mediterranean. 
Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why? 
A: I would love to have dinner with one of my favorite comedians (either John Mulaney, Kate McKinnon, or Steve Carrel). We would eat sushi. 
Q: Do you have any fun science trivia to share? 
A: Kind of! I think this is pretty interesting (but not fun): I have developed an allergy to fruit called OAS (oral allergy syndrome); because of this my body mistakes proteins in fruit skins for allergens and my lips puff up!! Weird!

Thanks to Kara for these excellent and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!