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    NMRC Women’s History Month Highlight: Dr. Kimberly Bishop-Lilly

    NMRC Women’s History Month Highlight: Dr. Kimberly Bishop-Lilly

    Photo By Michael Wilson | FREDERICK, Md. (March 22, 2024) Dr. Kimberly Bishop-Lilly, department head of Naval...... read more read more



    Story by Sidney Hinds 

    Naval Medical Research Command

    The U.S. Navy has benefitted from the contributions of women, Sailors and civilian alike, throughout its history. Women have helped advance the Navy across every field, and medical research is no exception.

    Dr. Kimberly Bishop Lilly, from Naval Medical Research Command (NMRC), is one such individual. For almost 20 years, she has been a scientist and leader with the Navy Medicine Research & Development enterprise, working across a broad swath of research relevant to Fleet readiness and the health of people worldwide.

    Bishop-Lilly, head of the Biological Defense Research Directorate (BDRD)’s Genomics & Bioinformatics department, has been interested in the scientific process from the very outset of her journey into research, and pursued a career in research to help others.

    “Collecting facts or data points appeals to me,” Bishop-Lilly explained. “The idea of trying to make sense of a world that doesn't always make sense, and chipping away at it a little bit at a time. I knew I wanted to be somewhere in biology, but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do until 9/11, and the anthrax incidents that followed. Those occurred when I was in college and cemented for me that what I wanted to do was biodefense research.”

    Bishop-Lilly earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a focus in microbiology at Salisbury University in 2002. From there her path led to Uniformed Services University, where she gained a PhD in emerging infectious diseases, studying bacteriology, virology, immunology and pathology.

    While working on her PhD, Bishop-Lilly had her first lab rotation in the viral and rickettsial diseases department at NMRC. After completing a thesis in virology, she returned to the NMRC Genomics department as a lab manager and sequencing team leader, and then Deputy Department Head, where she took part in BDRD’s move to Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

    “That was a lesson for me, as a new manager learning to be a leader, in getting your lab through adversity,” Bishop-Lilly recalled. “We had to pack up our labs, work through several delays and set up again in an entirely new place while keeping all our ongoing projects functional.”

    In early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began altering life in the United States, and other organizations dialed back operations, Bishop-Lilly’s lab took on the job of processing SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) samples for the Military Health System. Bishop-Lilly and her scientists halted ongoing virus discovery work, much of the therapeutic phage research, and software development efforts in order to develop analytical tools and contribute to vaccine development.

    “My department turned into a COVID-19 lab full time,” Bishop-Lilly explained. “We would do genome sequencing and bioinformatics day in and day out. It was challenging but rewarding because a lot of folks had to suspend all activities and couldn't pick up work directly relevant to the pandemic. We were in the lab constantly and fully engaged doing what we could to help.”

    For Bishop-Lilly, the pandemic was a reminder of the relevance of military medical research for the DoD and the nation.

    “The work in pathogen discovery and characterization and vaccine development that's done at NMRC is super-important for defense,” Bishop-Lilly explained, “but I think it's easily overlooked as part of the big picture. People don't always want to make investments because you don't always see a bright, shiny new thing come out of it every single day. It really is a long game in many ways, but we need to maintain a biodefense capability, or else we’ll be extremely unprepared for the next pandemic.”

    Asked about advice for young women interested in working in research or military medicine, Bishop-Lilly highlighted the importance of finding a place where you can contribute your talents to help others, but emphasized that the path forward can be challenging to varying levels for different people.

    “Don’t allow the perceived limitations of wherever you were plunked down in this universe to determine your outcome,” Bishop-Lilly advised. “You’ll have to work hard, but remember that every day is a new day. An opportunity to make a difference.”

    Bishop-Lilly also spoke to the rewarding nature of mentoring the next generation of scientists, citing the first time she took on a graduate student, helping her from research project initiation to completion, and seeing her gain a PhD.

    “In some ways, I think that we picked one of the harder areas for a woman to break into and work: military medical research,” Bishop-Lilly said. “The military environment can be challenging, and science is a field that's historically been a man's field. Both have opened up for women, but the combination of the two is a unique environment. I didn't consider that initially, though. I just thought, ‘oh, I want to go do that.’ And I did, but it required me to have a tough skin sometimes. I didn't even think about the fact that I was a woman, but I've been reminded periodically.”

    Bishop-Lilly also spoke to the positive changes she has seen for women in her field.

    “I've seen awareness grow in terms of what's appropriate and what's not, as society is changing at the same time, slowly,” Bishop-Lilly said. “I think as certain mindsets phase out of research, it opens a more comfortable place to work.”

    “I feel very grateful to work with the people that I work with,” She added. “I have a lot of dedicated folks who work really, really hard and I appreciate all of them, men and women. When a job is hard or I get frustrated, and I see everyone working hard anyway, it motivates me to keep going.”

    Regarding the recognition of Women’s History Month, Bishop-Lilly expressed a hope that people reach a point where they are conscientious of one another without needing an occasion to remind them.

    “I hope eventually we get to the point that it's not a day, it's not a month, it's just our perspective.”

    Throughout Women’s History Month, NMRC aims to recognize the contributions of our female Sailors, scientists and civilian personnel.



    Date Taken: 03.27.2024
    Date Posted: 03.27.2024 13:33
    Story ID: 467165

    Web Views: 193
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