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Alumni Update: Dr. Emily Roarty '01

Published: 05/12/2016

By: Lindsay Miles

Dr. Emily Roarty, molecular biology ’01, is a scientific manager in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at MD Anderson in Houston, where she oversees the departmental scientific research program including grants, contracts and the Lung Cancer Moon Shot Program. She was recently named Exemplary Employee of the Year out of 20,000 employees within the institution. Her passion for raising awareness for underfunded cancers, such as lung cancer, has helped garner more than $30,000,000 in peer-reviewed research funding since she joined the department.

What made you choose to attend Auburn?

“Growing up in southern Louisiana, Auburn was not a school immediately on my radar. Around the time I was applying to colleges, my older brother visited Auburn for a football game and came back raving about the friendliness of the fans and the beautiful campus. It seemed like an idyllic place, so I learned more about the school and was immediately impressed with its academic reputation and student life environment. Auburn quickly moved to the top of my college list. I am the youngest child in my family, and in my freshman year, there were three of us enrolled in college at the same time. That, coupled with being an out-of-state student, meant that a financial aid package was critical. When I received an academic scholarship from Auburn, it was a done deal, and I became an Auburn girl through and through. After attending Camp War Eagle in the summer if 1998, I eagerly began classes in September.”

Tell us about your time as a student. What were you involved in? 

“I was a molecular biology major, so the majority of my ‘free time’ was spent working in various labs. I spent several years working under the mentorship of my COSAM advisor, Dr. Douglas Goodwin, who was at the time an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. During this time, I learned numerous fundamental techniques and experiments that would serve me well through my scientific career. At the time, Dr. Goodwin had a very small lab group, so he literally worked side-by-side with me at the bench. He was patient and kind, and I learned so much from him. He mentored me on my coursework, counseled me on the GRE and the graduate school application processes, and even came to my graduation party and met my family. This time was truly formative in my development as a scientist, and I will always be grateful for the time that Dr. Goodwin took to teach me how to be a ‘real scientist.’ Outside of school and work, I had a great group of hilarious friends who enjoyed tailgating, football games, and late nights dancing to amazing cover bands. Interestingly, my best friend to this day is my Auburn roommate, Laurel Williams McCorkle, who I met in the dorms. We were a ‘potluck’ match my freshman year in Teague Hall, and we immediately hit it off. It’s been nearly 20 years since we met, and although we live almost 1,000 miles apart, we remain the best of friends. When we are lucky enough to meet for a weekend visit, we immediately revert to our college-aged selves as though no time has passed.”

Tell us about your life and career after Auburn.

After graduating from Auburn, I worked for a few months at the College of Veterinary Medicine with Dr. Daniel Givens. From there, I entered the cell biology Ph.D. program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. My research investigated aberrant cell signaling pathways in Glioblastoma Multiforme, a very deadly brain tumor. During this time, I also met my future husband, Kevin, who worked in the lab next door! We got married in 2006, I defended my Ph.D. dissertation in 2007, and in 2008, we moved to Houston for our postdoctoral fellowships. After a brief stint as a postdoc at MD Anderson Cancer Center, I made the jump away from bench research and into research administration. As a scientific administrator, I am in the unique position of leveraging my scientific knowledge to advance the translational research programs in lung and head and neck cancers.

How do you feel COSAM prepared you for professional school?

The rigorous coursework, coupled with my time in Dr. Goodwin's lab taught me the fundamental skills needed as a graduate student. I really enjoyed my advanced COSAM classes, including biochemistry with Drs. Aull and Goodwin and immunology with Dr. Dent. Believe it or not, I kept and referred to my cell biology notes from Dr. Moss throughout graduate school.

What is your favorite Auburn memory?

“This is a tough one. I have so many fond memories of my roommates and COSAM friends, pre-game War Eagle flights over the stadium, rolling Toomer's Corner, and late nights at The Supper Club.  College is such a unique time in your life. I didn't have the responsibilities of a full-time job and family, so I had time to invest in building strong, lifelong friendships. Auburn created a close, family atmosphere, and even today, when I pass someone at MD Anderson wearing an Auburn hat or shirt, I tell them ‘War Eagle’ and we exchange a friendly smile.”  

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