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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Margaret Fish

This Division I varsity swimmer from Harvard is used to doing laps. Laps take on a whole new meaning for Margaret Fish now as a graduate student driving the loop every day from her home near Central Campus to her lab on North Campus.

Margaret is a doctoral candidate researching vascular targeted drug delivery in her chemical engineering lab. She explains, “When a drug is delivered today, as in chemotherapy, your body can only tolerate a limited amount because of side effects that arise due to the drug being delivered to the entire body, including healthy cells. Vascular targeted drug delivery is engineering carriers to localize the drug to diseased tissue, thus protecting the drug from being cleared from the body and simultaneously delivering more drug and minimizing systemic side effects. My research motivates me because I can clearly see how it would directly translate into helping others.”

She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is happy to be back in the Midwest closer to family. She traveled east to Harvard for her undergraduate degree where she studied chemistry and physics and minored in Spanish, she says, “to keep me sane.”

After graduating, Margaret explored internships and found her interests all revolved around the chemical engineering field. She says, “I looked into master’s programs and chose U-M because of the broad range of highly ranked and esteemed programs. I couldn’t go wrong coming here. It’s great to have my family within driving distance, too. I was concerned about which master’s programs would accept me as a chemical engineering graduate student when I had a pure chemistry and physics background, but U-M had a whole plan laid out for me. They knew what was going on and were prepared for students like me who came from different backgrounds.

As she recalls her journey to pursuing a doctoral education, she says, “As first year grad students, we’re required to go to a seminar where the department brings in every faculty member to speak with us for twenty minutes about their research. It was so helpful to understand the work being done – as a master’s student, I was floored by the interesting research going on. My advisor took me on as a master’s student, and at the end of the year I took my exams with the intent to pursue a Ph.D. We mutually decided I would stay in the lab for my Ph.D. I love the research I’m doing in the lab and have a productive relationship with my research advisor. We’re almost a 100% experimental lab, and I’ve learned a lot from the older students in the lab. Knowledge is passed down from student to student.”

She didn’t always love research. “I didn’t love the research I did as an undergraduate, but as a grad student it’s a completely different experience getting to formulate problems and solve them yourself. My path to a doctorate in chemical engineering was not traditional, but I really enjoy where I am now. I got the chance to explore science in my undergrad and build from there.”

“The sustained trend through my life is that I’m really a go-getter. Organized sports engrained that into me at a really young age. Swimming was perfect for me: there is teamwork but you are working on your own a lot. Whatever you put into it you get out of it. There are a number of strong parallels between graduate school and sports.” Outside of the lab, Margaret travels as much as she can, spends time listening to live music in Ann Arbor, and participates in outdoorsy stuff whenever possible.

Margaret is deeply involved in her department, helping with recruitment of grad students who’ve been admitted. She says, “My department is great – from the department chair to my advisor to the faculty and staff, they’re really there to help you. Grad school is difficult and very undefined for a doctoral student. They make my time seem valuable and allow me to make a difference, which is good.” She also serves the president of the chemical engineering graduate student society organizing social events and a plethora of other programs to generate a sense of community in her department. She explains, “There is a lot of shuffling around on North Campus due to construction, so it’s more important than ever to keep events going to keep that sense of departmental community.”

Where she goes when she finishes her Ph.D. is uncertain. “I see two paths – continuing in academia and leading a research lab or going into industry, most likely pharmaceuticals. I like technical work but am a people person and want to be in a role where I can manage and mentor people to reach their maximal potential.”