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To New Heights

Doctoral students escape the lab, find community on the climbing wall.

Jennifer Ferrer looks on as Arianne Rodriguez climbs in Tennessee.

Spring 2019

As they near the completion of their doctorates, Jennifer Ferrer and Arianne Rodriguez have faced their fair share of challenges. Lab work is rarely glamorous, and responding to carefully planned experiments gone awry can be difficult.

But the duo has found solace inside Chicago’s climbing gyms, which they started frequenting a few years back. Ferrer had just returned from her first climbing experience in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, and she was looking for a partner back in the States. She asked Rodriguez, who had rock climbed during her days at Notre Dame but had given up the sport.

They started documenting their successes and failures on the Instagram account @coconutandcantaloupe, a combination of their nicknames, Coconut (Ferrer) and Cantaloupe (Rodriguez). Beyond tracking their own progress, they hope to encourage others to get into the sport.

They say that climbing, with its focus on problem-solving and adaptability, has helped with their academic investigations. Ferrer works on nanoparticles for immune therapy in Chad Mirkin’s lab, while Rodriguez explores the mechanics of cellular metabolism and immunity with Navdeep Chandel. More important, Ferrer and Rodriguez say they’ve found something to pursue in their lives beyond research.

“We see a lot of students who work in the lab, sleep and eat,” says Rodriguez. “That’s not going to sustain you in the long term. You need something else to tether yourself to, to ground yourself when the science might not be working.” They say seeing personal improvement and becoming more aware of the importance of seemingly small milestones have been beneficial too.

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