PhD student, Pharmaceutical Sciences
Faculty advisor: Seungpyo Hong
Piper Rawding is a PhD student in Seungpyo Hong’s research lab in the School of Pharmacy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering with a minor in biology in engineering from UW–Madison. Before starting graduate school, Piper worked as an assistant scientist at Waisman Biomanufacturing and as an engineer at Trinseo in Michigan.
Piper’s work in the Hong research lab focuses on developing nanocarriers to improve cancer immunotherapy. By understanding and controlling the interactions that polymers have with cells, researchers like Piper can engineer nanocarriers’ biological behaviors to improve the efficiency and accuracy of cancer-battling drugs.
“The existing cancer immunotherapies have limitations, including inconsistent benefits across cancer types and patients,” Piper explained. “To address these issues, nanoparticles have been utilized as carriers for immunotherapeutic agents and have demonstrated significant anti-tumor effects with increased adaptive and durable responses compared to conventional immunotherapeutics.”
Through her work, Piper hopes to advance the field of immunotherapies to improve the lives of cancer patients. She is a Women in Science and Engineering Scholar and a Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Scholar. She has also won a Girl Scouts Gold Award for contributing to her community.
Piper works to foster an inclusive environment in STEM by raising awareness of mental health disorders among students and researchers and by serving as a mentor for other women in STEM. She plans to help introduce young women interested in science to research environments by starting a collaboration between her future research program and local high schools.
“I will integrate these engagement efforts into my research program to create an academic environment that is inclusive and strives for innovation to overcome current biomedical challenges,” Piper said.
Piper has been financially independent since age 17 and worked in different labs to gain research experience and support herself during her undergraduate study. She received a Graduate School Fellowship in fall 2020. The financial support came at a good time – earlier that year, she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to pay multiple medical bills, which Piper said put her in a poor financial state. The Graduate School Fellowships allowed her to focus on her research rather than her financial struggles.
“I have always dreamed of establishing a future career as a researcher and university professor, where I can teach, inspire, and help students pursue their passions, and I strived to succeed both in research and academia,” Piper said. “When applying to graduate school, I understood the financial sacrifice that I would have to make as a graduate student rather than working as a professional engineer. However, my long-term goal has always been foregrounded in my mind, and I am determined to achieve my goals.”