Student Spotlight: Cassie Leech

Cassie Leech HeadshotHometown:

Middleboro, MA

Year entered CMB program:



John Denu Lab


Brief Summary of Research:

I am currently investigating the role that SAM-synthatases (MAT2A and MAT2B) play in promoting adaptive and de novo H3K9me1 during methionine restriction in cells.

Awards and Publications:

Metabolism and Nutrition Training Program (UW-Madison – 2021).

Haws, S. A., Leech, C. M., & Denu, J. M. (2020). Metabolism and the Epigenome: A Dynamic Relationship. Trends in biochemical sciences, 45(9), 731–747.

Leech, C. M., Flynn, M. J., Arsenault, H. E., Ou, J., Liu, H., Zhu, L. J., & Benanti, J. A. (2020). The coordinate actions of calcineurin and Hog1 mediate the stress response through multiple nodes of the cell cycle network. PLoS genetics, 16(4), e1008600.

Su, S., Guntur, A. R., Nguyen, D. C., Fakory, S. S., Doucette, C. C., Leech, C., Lotana, H., Kelley, M., Kohli, J., Martino, J., Sims-Lucas, S., Liaw, L., Vary, C., Rosen, C. J., & Brown, A. C. (2018). A Renewable Source of Human Beige Adipocytes for Development of Therapies to Treat Metabolic Syndrome. Cell reports, 25(11), 3215–3228.e9.

Why did you choose UW-Madison’s CMB Program?

There are of course plenty of reasons that I decided on CMB at UW-Madison, however the truest reason I can give is that it just felt like things “clicked” here. During my interview weekend I felt so relaxed around the current students and genuinely felt as though these were people I wanted to surround myself with. They were not only great scientists researching cool questions, but they were also fun and positive and were involved in all kinds of unique hobbies.

What inspired you to go into your field of study?

I love understanding how the world functions around me. Epigenetics research allows me to really dive into the mechanisms of HOW our genes are regulated, while also being able to investigate the downstream physiological consequences.

What lessons have you learned throughout your graduate career so far?

To enjoy the process, especially in the slow phases. It’s easy to get caught up in the end goals and just trying to accomplish as much as I can as quickly as I can. Reminding myself to enjoy even the slow steps (learning or optimizing new protocols, troubleshooting, searching literature, etc.) helps to keep me grounded and avoid the frustration that I’m not making fast enough progress.

What are your long term career goals?

Currently interested in scientific editing or policy making, but am keeping an open mind 🙂

What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?

Imposter fears are still something that I struggle with often. I’ve had to force myself to be more open and vulnerable about these fears, but in talking about them to my coworkers and friends I have come to realize that I’m not alone in feeling this way and have found a great outpouring of support. Find your support network and don’t be afraid to lean on them or ask for help!

What is a fun fact about yourself?

Before moving to Wisconsin, my fiancé and I took a month-long road trip from Massachusetts to the Grand Canyon, stopping at as many national parks on the way and back as we could. It was such an unbelievable experience!

When you are not in the lab, you are…….?

Hiking or at the dog parks with my fiancé, Zack, and our corgi, Gimli! I also love running and biking when the weather is nice, or practicing yoga.

What is your favorite memory so far in the CMB Program?

Attending the research retreat my first year! It was just an awesome experience to feel so included by the upper level graduate students and to get to know everyone outside of lab. It really made me feel like I was a part of a little community. We discussed plenty of great science but also had some really great laughs.