Zachary Mackey, Ph.D.

Zachary MackeyTell us about your current career position.
I am currently an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
I worked in both private and academic laboratories for a total of 4 years after I graduated from college. These work experiences were instrumental in my decision to pursue a Ph.D.  My route to securing a faculty position involved making a decision to take some career advice from an unlikely source, a former mentee. 

How did you first become interested in science?
My interest in science began when I was 8 years old. My uncle was pretending to be a mad scientist and caused an accidental explosion in my grandparents’ kitchen. From that day forward, I have always wanted to be a scientist. I have had many outstanding mentors during my journey to become a scientist, but it was my playful uncle who planted the initial seed in my heart.

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
I have suffered from failure at every stage of my career. I’ve responded to these failures by regrouping, reassessing, taking a different approach, and seeking advice from friends, mentors and family. This approach has always helped me to get back on track.

What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
My best advice is: Don’t let anyone dilute your dreams of becoming a scientist. Seek mentors and constantly search for research opportunities.

What are your hobbies?
I taught myself to play bass guitar. I love to play whenever time allows. 

What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was Zealot by Reza Aslan. The last children’s book I read was Time for Bed (story by Mem Fox and illustrations by Jane Dyer).

Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
I have several heroes. My grandparents managed to support fifteen children and one grandchild (me) on a single civil servant income. They raised and nurtured each of their 15 children and me. My mother worked multiple jobs and went to nursing school to make sure that my brother and I had the necessities of life as we were growing up. She is the person who is responsible for my work ethic and determination to succeed. My third grade speech therapist was one who saw potential in me that other teachers refused to recognize. My aunt and uncle also helped me to transition from a troubled teen into an adult.

What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
The promise of characterizing novel drug targets that will lead to the development of a new class of drugs that will improve the standard of care in treating Trypanosoma brucei and related pathogens. 

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