This story begins in 2008, where I, as an idealistic undergraduate eager for opportunities, applied to a summer research internship program. There, I met Dr. Marion Miller, the head of the program and professor in Environmental Toxicology, a major I had only recently settled in to. She was interested in matching me with a lab to suit my interests, and I was immediately awed by her strong personality, delegation, and independence. She aided in organizing many unique and interesting events for us interns that summer, and her tireless enthusiasm and passion for toxicology inspired me. As a result, I made the decision to pursue another research project the following year, and I wanted to work with her before I graduated.
Timidly, and with many reservations because I found this woman imposing, I asked Dr. Miller if I might work in her lab on an independent research project. She smiled, and said only five words. “Have you SEEN my lab?” She laughed a little as if at a private joke, marveling at how I would want to work in an empty lab. From then on, she was always available to me even when she was juggling a million other projects, teaching, and running a second lab. Her demeanor was always amiable, and she always looked on the bright side of my often negative results. I learned so much about research, collaborating, and thinking critically from her, and in the end, I was more inspired to pursue research then ever. She always treated me with respect, assuming I more or less knew what I was doing, asking for my advice when teaching, treating me like more than just the little undergraduate I was. She made me feel capable, and most importantly, I felt as if she saw potential in me for a career in research. She asked me many times about graduate school, aiming to help me push past my reservations about the process and apply. She even urged me to aim as high as MIT, a place I would have never seen myself.
If it were not for Dr. Miller, my life would have taken a much different course, and I could never be more thankful for her guidance and support, even if she hardly realized how much she was helping me. It was with much remorse that I left for Boston without saying goodbye. The day before my departure I came to say thank you and goodbye, only to learn that she was undergoing surgery. It wasn’t until I had arrived on the East Coast that she sent me an email telling me she had a tumor removed from her pancreas, and seemed to by responding well to chemotherapy. She sounded so optimistic, as if pancreatic cancer isn’t one of the most invasive cancers with the worst prognosis. All through her chemotherapy she continued to teach, emailing me with lab related questions, promptly submitting any materials I required for graduate school submissions. When I did not get in to graduate school last year and began to have doubts, she helped me strengthen my resolve for a second go around this year.
Earlier this month, I was eager to let her know that I had, in fact, decided to apply again to graduate school, and I was taking a class I hoped would help me prepare. I emailed her inquiring after her health and disposition, and after two weeks received no reply. Instead I received news that on Friday, February 25th, 2011, she passed away after a hard fought battle with her pancreatic cancer. My heart goes out to her family and close friends, and it saddens me intensely to have lost such a vibrant, caring, remarkable professional who helped teach and inspire so many young toxicology students. She was truly unique, and the field has lost a great mentor and leader. I only wish I could say I did as much for her as she has done for me. I can only hope that by dedicating myself to cancer research, I may physically aid in the process of understanding progressive tumor growth and development, to perhaps help alleviate the pain and suffering attached to this terrible disease.
Thank you Dr. Miller, and rest in peace.