Anna Merrill

Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology at Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Health Care


Plymouth, MN

Undergraduate Institution

St. Olaf College

Ph.D. Studies


Title of Ph.D. Dissertation

Global protein quantification using neutron-encoded mass signatures and high-resolution mass spectrometry.

What aspects of your graduate training have most valuable for you?

Communication skills. Professor Coon, as a mentor from early on, is good at communicating with young and interested people and finding ways to engage their interests. He’s very driven to provide the best opportunities possible to his grad students and post docs. You communicate regularly, and you can get a lot of feedback on your research to put you in a position to design your own experiments. The lab also values the transition of knowledge from older to younger students. Developing communication skills through mentoring has helped me navigate difficult management situations in my current job. How to communicate when something goes wrong or when don’t know how to do something: that’s a skill in itself.

There was a strong emphasis on being able to present your work clearly in writing and at conferences. I’m really glad that that’s now what I expect of myself and other people, and it’s helped me be able to know and argue for the importance of what I’m doing.

“Developing communication skills through mentoring has helped me navigate difficult management situations in my current job.”

Tell us more about your current work.

I’m doing a two-year fellowship in clinical chemistry at the University of Washington, training to be a director at a clinical chemistry lab. I’m putting the mass spectrometry skills from the Coon group to work in a clinical environment and also working on management. In that respect the collaborations I worked on in the Coon lab have helped me with being able to simultaneously coordinate different projects, meet expectations, and communicate clearly.

What advice would you give a scientist contemplating graduate school?

Find research that is exciting to you. It should be exciting because there’s a lot to learn! You don’t need to know at the beginning, but keep your eye on your long-term goals and choose a program and an advisor that will help you get where you want to go. The PhD is not the end so much as an opportunity for new things. Keeping that in mind should be easier to do if you’re in an environment that supports that kind of thinking.

Earn your Ph.D. with us

The Coon Group is always on the lookout for new members.  Professor Coon accepts students from several UW-Madison doctoral programs including Chemistry, the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), and Cellular & Molecular Pathology.