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CBS Student Remembers Shelley Grimes

CBS undergraduate Jack Hedberg researched under Dr. Shelley Grimes. Read his tribute to Dr. Grimes below. 

A piercing, negative twenty-degree gust of February wind blasted me in the face as I walked along Washington Avenue towards Moos Tower. Descending the half staircase for the first time, I entered a cozy, bustling node of underground hallways that connect many of the medical and research buildings on East bank. A high school senior who had recently been admitted to the U, I was both excited and intimidated by the grand buildings and heavy commerce that characterized my future home. I also realized that I had no idea where I was. I grew apprehensive that I had entered the wrong building, but just then I noticed a familiar face smiling at me in the center of the main hallway: Dr. Shelley Grimes. The mother of one of my best friends, Shelley was a molecular virologist who led a research lab in Moos Tower, and I had come to meet with her.

I was composing an ethnography for a writing class, and had decided to study the culture of a scientific research lab. Having been very active and happy as a musician throughout high school, I strongly suspected that I would ultimately devote my life to music, yet I had also harbored a subtle, relatively unexplored interest in science that had suddenly provoked this uncharacteristic choice for a writing assignment.

I spent two weeks observing Shelley in her laboratory. Throughout this time, I saw in her a light and a passion that were almost indescribable; she was utterly fascinated with the world around her. Shelley’s spirituality played a critical role in her research: She was able to translate her faith and belief in metaphysical principles into meticulous laboratory work and good science in a way that made her a rare and extraordinary investigator. Shelley’s love for her family, for meditation, and for consciousness, provided her with diligence that allowed many major accomplishments and successes throughout her career. She was also motivated by the bigger picture that she saw her working fitting into; Shelley once said to me, “Throughout Europe’s history, it took hundreds of years for people to build cathedrals, and many of the workers never got to see the final structure that they spent their whole life working on. What makes research beautiful is that you might not live to see the end product of your work; you’re a part of something bigger.” This is the epitome of who Shelley was; she saw research as a collective process that transcended the sum of its parts, and she had a vision for how she wanted her work to contribute to helping others in beautiful, magnificent ways, that she may not have gotten to witness from Earth. 

Throughout my time observing Shelley’s lab, as I was coming to understand how a profound admiration for the world around could give someone in their 50’s a curiosity and joy that kept them eternally young - as I witnessed Shelley conducting an orchestra of laboratory devices, experiments, and procedures to provide in beautiful harmony the bits of reasoning and evidence she sought - I, too, fell in love with research. 

One afternoon, Shelley placed in front of me fifty cards with different terms on them that in one way or another described various careers or styles of living, and she told me to pick my top five without any further explanation. I wasn’t very invested in the exercise at first, yet as I became increasingly selective in the cards I held on to, I recognized that the terms were beginning to elicit the same sense of curiosity that had drawn me to Shelley’s lab in the first place. Ultimately, my top card was labeled, “exploring the way,” and Shelley had me write down the terms from the five cards I had chosen. I did so reluctantly. Little did I know that today this sheet of paper would be stored among the most important things I’ve ever written.

What exactly did, ‘exploring the way’ mean? 'Exploring the way' described why I suddenly knew, towards the end of my time observing Shelley’s Lab, that I needed to be in the College of Biological Sciences the coming Fall. ‘Exploring the way,’ though I didn’t understand it yet, encapsulated my motivation to someday lead biomedical researchers at the forefront of a field, my desire to experience the world alongside patients whose diseases and injuries liberate the most important phrases, feelings, and ambitions in their lives – indeed ‘exploring the way’ speaks my desire to become a physician investigator. And ‘exploring the way’ is something Shelley was doing her entire life.  

Shelley served as a mentor for me from the moment I set foot in Moos Tower that first time, providing keen advice whenever I was struggling with a decision or challenge, listening with all of her heart when I needed to speak to someone who understood me, and truly believing in my ability to do something amazing with my life, even when I myself questioned my abilities. 

Throughout the significant training and preparation necessary to craft strong physicians and investigators, each of us is molded by the mentors we encounter along the way, whether it is through one chapter of our education or several. Shelley’s mentorship has had a profound impact on me during an early chapter of my education; if I achieve my dream, it will be in no small part because of Shelley, and thus through the kindness I wish to emanate as a doctor, the resolve I wish to embody as an investigator, and the resilience I wish to maintain in the face of defining challenges, Shelley will be present. Shelley is someone whose wisdom and inspiration will remain with me my entire life. She was truly driven to discover, and through not only her groundbreaking research, but the inspiration she cultivated in others, Shelley will live on. 

-Jack Hedberg

August, 2017