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Graduate Student Highlight: Madison Helm

31 August 2021
Maddy Helm

Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing interesting and exciting work within the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Madison Helm, who is a second-year student in the Weinert group.

Maddy’s research focuses on understanding the relationship between oxygen-sensing heme proteins and virulence in certain pathogenic bacteria.

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


Question: How did you get interested in chemistry?


I started out as a biology major, and honestly I hated chemistry when I was first taking classes. However, once I took organic chemistry that really changed the game for me. It felt like I was solving an advanced jigsaw puzzle, and I found that really enjoyable. Then I changed my major and the rest is history!


Q: What inspires you as a scientist?


This might be a weird answer, but I would say everyone in this program. One thing I had to get used to was a lot of failure, and to see the people around me being so resilient and positive in the midst of it all has been really inspiring.


Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of? (Either as a scientist, or otherwise)


I’m most proud of the person that I’ve become. When I look back on who I used to be, even just one year ago, I can tell how much I’ve grown and matured, and I really have therapy to thank for that. It was something that I thought about doing for so long, but when I finally made the decision to commit to it, it was absolutely life-changing. So, I’m really proud of myself for making that commitment to better myself and sticking to it.


Q: Why did you decide to come to Penn State?


I first got the idea for the professor I worked for in undergrad, who came to Penn State for her PhD. Then, when I visited for the open house, I just knew this is where I wanted to be. Sorry I know that’s kind of an anticlimactic answer, but it’s the truth!


Q: Where did you grow up? (Tell us a fun fact about your hometown if you want)


I grew up in Grayslake, Illinois! It’s right next to the Six Flags, if anyone is familiar with that park. I guess a fun fact would be that Ninja (the video game guy?) grew up there. He went to Grayslake Central and I went to Grayslake North High School, so pretty close!


Q: Do you have any hobbies?


I love to crochet in my free time! I find it very relaxing because it’s a pretty mindless activity.


Q: Do you have any pets?


I have a three-year-old kitty named Blue, and I’m absolutely obsessed with her!! Her birthday is coming up on Thursday (August 26), so mark your calendars!


Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?


Honestly, I love the days where I do absolutely nothing all day. I feel like I always have something I have to get done, so I cherish the days where I can be a couch potato.


Q: What’s your dream vacation? 


I would love to spend an entire summer backpacking through Europe. I feel like that’s such a cliché answer, but there’s so much art and history there that I want to experience!


Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why? (And what would you eat?)


I would have dinner with Ruth Bader Ginsburg because I feel like I would learn so much from her. She’s a legend in my book, and to be graced with her presence would be insane. As for what we’d eat, probably just an all-you-can-eat buffet? I’m so indecisive, so I couldn’t choose.


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