Faculty Spotlight: Kimberly Keil

Following postdoctoral training at UC Davis and securing an NIH Pathway to Independence award, Dr. Kimberly Keil is returning to Madison as faculty in Comparative Biosciences.  She has affiliated with MET and plans to research the role of environment influences on urinary function.





Describe your background and training.

As a predoctoral student at University of Wisconsin Madison, I carried out in utero environmental chemical exposure studies, DNA methylation analysis, prostate and bladder morphology studies in mice. In the first part of my postdoctoral training at the University of California Davis, I built upon my previous work and gained new expertise in neurotoxicology and mouse behavior. As I continued my research, I have extended my expertise and gained training in two new areas: the peripheral nervous system and bladder innervation. This has allowed me to combine my interest in neurotoxicology and the lower urinary tract to be able to start an independent research track. I have accepted a tenure track faculty position at UW Madison beginning November 2019.

What are your research goals?

My lab is focused on understanding the impact of the environment on the establishment and regulation of urinary function. In particular we are focused on developmental exposure to environmental contaminants. One environmental contaminant of interest to our lab includes the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are ubiquitous environmental contaminants, and while they are known to have deleterious effects on the developing brain and central nervous system, their effects on the peripheral nervous system and peripheral target tissues – such as the bladder – are not understood. Therefore, we are using a combination of in vitro and in vivo approaches in mice to identify the effects of PCBs on urinary function focusing not only on bladder innervation and physiology but also on input from the central nervous system and dorsal root ganglia which are critical in controlling urinary function. Our ultimate goal is to be able to identify targets for therapeutic intervention and/or identify critical windows of exposure to help mitigate risk.

Why are you affiliated with the MET program?

The MET program provides an environment where students gain the necessary curriculum training and have the support of a large and diverse group of faculty trainers. The MET program also provides a clear pathway to a degree. There are numerous milestones which ensure students are gaining the classroom training, professional development and research progress necessary to successfully complete their degree. This ensures that MET students are well trained, involved and feel connected to their program, which helps them excel in their research and as scientists.

Describe your mentoring style.

As a mentor I like to give students the ability to think for themselves, ask questions and come up with their own ideas. Fostering a sense of ownership in the project they are working on is important to me and part of that is letting them explore new avenues within reason. Even if physically pursuing these new avenues is not feasible at the time, the ability to think of next steps and future possibilities is a rewarding and important training exercise for students. I like to provide students with as much guidance and instruction as they need based on the stage of their training and often take the approach of you watch me, I watch you, you do it alone, so everyone becomes familiar with how a specific task is completed and everyone is on the same page and all part of the same team.

In your experience, which characteristics make graduate students successful?

Graduate students who are curious, excited and passionate about science are often the most successful, in large part because they enjoy the process and are engaged in their work. Students who are able to adapt to changes and challenges – that will ultimately always come up – are also successful because they don’t see these challenges as a step backwards, rather as a redirection that may lead to something better. Being able to keep an open mind while always thinking about the next step and the bigger picture can go a long way in not only being successful but also to making their work enjoyable.