Born and raised on the Greek island of Lefkada, Marilena Melas obtained a bachelor’s degree in applied biology and biotechnology at the University of Ioannina. She continued her studies at the University of Crete where she earned a master’s degree in molecular biology, and she went on to earn a second master’s degree in human genetics at the University College London in the United Kingdom.
In 2015, Marilena was accepted into the Ph.D. Program in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (PIBBS) at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine where she completed her doctoral studies in cancer biology and genomics. During her time at USC, Marilena co-authored several publications related to her research, won best oral presentation at the Graduate Student Symposium hosted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and served as a mentor to first-year PIBBS students.
Marilena is currently an American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics Clinical Laboratory Fellow at the Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Her career goal is to become director of a clinical medical genetics lab focusing on the translation of genomic discoveries into clinical and therapeutic applications in the field of personalized cancer genomics, thereby helping patients and families.
Let’s get to know Marilena!
- Why did you accept the invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi?
It was my honor to receive an invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi—one of the most prestigious honor societies in the country. The qualities of an ideal [USC] Trojan include faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous and ambitious, and being a member of Phi Kappa Phi, which promotes excellence and the love of learning, helps me maintain these qualities in my career and beyond.
- What does Phi Kappa Phi mean to you?
I was initiated on the morning of May 9, 2019, and my Ph.D. defense was held that same afternoon. The experience of being initiated gave me the confidence I needed during my Ph.D. defense, and I was excited to proudly wear my Phi Kappa Phi pin. I spent the rest of the day celebrating with family and friends, and will never forget that very emotional day.
- What are your hobbies?
I enjoy playing piano, swimming, and American Smooth and American Rhythm ballroom dancing. I was even a member of the USC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team at the University Park Campus!
- What is your favorite movie?
I love watching movies, and some of my all-time favorite classics are The Pianist, La vita e Bella, Schindler’s List, and Forrest Gump.
- What is your favorite place to visit?
I enjoy visiting the beautiful weather of California because I lived there for seven years and will always be sentimentally connected with the moments and people I experienced there. However, Greece will always come first because my heart and soul is always back home with family. Greeks are known for our hospitality and philotimo–a Greek word without meaning but very meaningful–and I feel happier every time I visit my hometown of Lefkada.
- If you were stuck on an island, what three items would you bring?
If I were stuck on an island, I would bring my piano, cell phone, and a notebook and pen. I would use the phone to look back at pictures of my favorite people and take pictures of the landscape, and the notebook to write my thoughts.
- When are you the happiest?
I’m happiest when I spend time with my loved ones, when I reflect on my parents’ pride at the person I am, and when my actions help or make someone happy. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
- What is your motto?
I like to live by Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying, "Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground." In other words, always aspire for more, but never lose track of who you are throughout your journey.
- If you could talk with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
If I could talk with anyone, it would be Hippocrates, the father of medicine. He first introduced the concept of idiosyncrasy where each individual has specific characteristics that protect or predispose us for certain diseases, and he inspired me to prepare my TEDxColumbus talk on personalized genomics. I would also love to meet the famous musician Yanni in person. I admire his music and his personality, and if I weren’t a scientist I would love to be a famous pianist just like him!
- How do you define success?
I believe happiness brings success. Do what you love, love what you do, and you will never work another day in your life! Dream it, wish it, be passionate about it and do it!
To learn more about Marilena and connect, visit her member profile within the Phi Kappa Phi online community here.
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