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Q&A with Dr. Helen Walter: The Scientist and Educator

Originally from Westbury, a small town in the west of England, Dr. Helen Walter came to the United States in search of teaching experience. As luck would have it, Dr. Walter found herself working at several universities in the Bay Area and was drawn to Mills’ nursing program in 2005.

Photo Courtesy of Helen Walter
Photo Courtesy of Helen Walter

Currently Dr. Walter teaches a full course load as an assistant professor in the biology department, is the Director of the Hellman Summer Science & Math Fellows Program and the Center of Academic Excellence, and is a visiting scientist at The Center of Immunology & Vaccine Development at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

The Campanil was fortunate enough to sit down and chat with Dr. Walter about her academic journey.

The Campanil: Who would you say inspired you to follow a career in science?

Dr. Helen Walter: My grandma is, I think, what made me be a scientist. She would play doctors and nurses with us [and she’d say science is] “like a cooking experiment. You put all these things together and you create something new and different. You can make cures for diseases.”

TC: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome as a student?

HW: Exams! I hate exams! I wasn’t quite sure about how to study.

TC: If you had to choose one class to teach for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

HW: Immunology, because we’re looking at the immune system. It’s fantastic in how it protects us from invasion, bacteria, viruses and from everything else. But at the same time, there is so much randomness in the system.

TC: What do you do for fun?

HW: I scuba dive, I also belly dance, and then I’m an actual WoW [World of Warcraft] addict. I manage to squeeze in a couple hours a week to go raiding and stuff.

TC: I understand that the research you’ve done at Mills on a vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) is competing with a Swiss lab to publish the results. Please tell us a little about the publishing process for scientific research.

HW: It’s all dependent on who gets done first, who gets the paper in first, and how comprehensive it is. Because even if we put our paper in, and we’ve missed a key experiment, they’re going to send it back. Well if they’ve gone in behind us, but they’re not missing that key experiment, they may get in before us. So, we kinda need to get it out first. And hopefully we will.

TC: If the Mills team is selected for publication, what is the first thing you’ll do to celebrate?

HW: Sleep. And then there would be some kind of celebration.