March is National Women’s History Month, and today LSC is celebrating Jersey City professor and biologist Dr. Jill Callahan.
Jill Callahan planned a career as a nurse. But soon after she began college as a nursing major, she realized that working in a hospital was not for her. Callahan redirected her passion for understanding health and disease toward becoming a researcher, and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.
She continued her studies, earning a PhD in microbiology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her focus: studying biofilms, which are collectives of microorganisms that connect together and grow on surfaces. One common example of a biofilm is dental plaque, the slimy buildup of bacteria that forms on the surfaces of teeth. Biofilms can also form in the human body—inside blood vessels or airways. Biofilms can also cause medical devices to become contaminated and spread disease.
Today, Dr. Callahan focuses on microbiology research into natural, plant-based remedies that counteract biofilms. In her role as a professor at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, she and her students are researching the benefits of lycopene, which is found in red and pink fruits, on the cardiovascular system. Lycopene can reverse the effects biofilms have on the body. Dr. Callahan is also investigating the benefits of green tea. Both lycopene and green tea have been shown to help improve blood flow and decrease blood pressure.
What advice would she give to students in the biology field? To keep an open mind about science, as she did when contemplating a nursing career. “Biology is just the beginning—keep going. There are a lot of opportunities in STEM,” she says. “Try out different programs so you know what you want to do.”
She also advises other women in STEM fields to continue building their expertise and careers, even when it’s difficult. “Trying to balance a family and work life may be hard, but you can do it,” she says.