UNH senior working at Boston Children’s

Wednesday, June 3, 2020
David Walker ’20 in the cell culture hood.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series we call “The Places They’ll Go” that has graduating seniors sharing their plans for the future.

The messages we receive when we’re young can stay with us — the things people tell us or suggest are true. David Walker ’20 came out of high school thinking he wasn’t “intelligent enough” to go into medicine. Then he got to UNH and went to work in the lab of Sarah Walker (no relation), an assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and biomedical sciences, and his thinking began to change.

“Working in the lab, I realized I had the skill and passion to do research, and my goal of going into medicine actually seemed like a possibility for me,” Walker says. “It seemed like a challenge to my high school self, and I decided to head down that path until the people who had made me think I wasn’t smart enough were proven right, and for a long time, in the back of my head I thought they were.” 

“I like research because it’s hard! Things don’t always go your way."

They weren’t. Walker graduated in May with a degree in biomedical sciences, medical and veterinary option. On June 8 he begins a two-year commitment in the cardiology department at Boston Children’s Hospital, working on cardiac stem cells. After that, he plans to go to medical school.

During his sophomore year, Walker had learned that professor Walker was coming to UNH and that he could try to join her lab. He spent the summer researching her areas of interest and then, at their very first meeting, brought her an idea for a project.

Sarah Walker’s research focuses on breast and ovarian cancer. David Walker’s idea was to take the role a protein called STAT3 plays in ovarian cancer growth and combine it with an assay to test the cancer’s ability to spread.

“Professor Walker took a chance on me, and she gave me a lot of freedom on my project,” Walker says. “The work that she helped me to produce in her lab is a major contributor to why I received an offer from Boston Children’s.”  To support his work, he received an Undergraduate Research Award in 2018  and a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in 2019 from the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research.

Walker’s challenge to his high school self didn’t stop with getting that research job. He became an advanced EMT and is a crew chief with McGregor Memorial EMS in Durham. He’s also president of the UNH Red Cross Club, the group that runs the campus blood drives, and was president of the Phi Sigma Biological Honors Society, which provides tutoring to biology students.

While his eye is on becoming a doctor, his time in Walker’s lab cemented his love of research, and he hopes to find a way to have it be part of his future.

“I like research because it’s hard! Things don’t always go your way,” Walker says. “When you finally figure out what’s wrong with an experiment and get it to work after weeks of trying, or the first time you try something that works completely as expected, the feeling of accomplishment is incredible.”

Walker admits it was disappointing to have his college career at UNH cut short, but he says it changed his perspective.

“I am amazed at the speed at which people were able to change their lives and come together over a crisis. Even before spring break, new protocols and precautions were coming out weekly to try and keep both providers and the public safe,” Walker says. “And the health care professionals have been phenomenal. It really gives me hope for the future that this kind of response is possible.”