Published December 29. 2012 4:00AM
Erin Jansen surfaced from her studies at the University of Connecticut in 2008 armed with a master's degree in cell and molecular biology and quickly confronted an abysmal job market.
The 2002 Fitch High School graduate finished her studies during a time that seemed to her to be the height of the economic collapse.
"It was really hard to find a job in my field," she said. "It was definitely demoralizing at the time. I started to wonder if I'd ever find anything, but figured if I just kept putting in the effort with the search, eventually I'd catch a break and find something."
Jansen says she probably sent out more than 200 resumes during a months-long search but had just a handful of interviews. She was, however, undeterred and eventually landed a job in a field she loves.
Ten years after her graduation from Fitch, Erin Jansen is now Erin Bastien, channeling her love of science into work toward a cure for cancer.
She is also raising a daughter while working as a research assistant in the biophysics lab at the University of Rhode Island.
"It's really interesting work. I heard about this lab through networking when I was looking for work and read up on what they were studying and was really excited about it," she said.
She summarized her work in an email: "All of our work is centered in a patented peptide called pHLIP (pH Low Insertion Peptide). All types of cancer cells tend to have lower pH than normal cells as a result of differences in metabolism (known as the Warburg Effect.) This peptide will only insert itself into the membrane of cells with low pH (i.e., cancer cells), thus it has major implications for both treatment and diagnosis of all types of cancer, depending on whether you attach a dye molecule (diagnosis) or a drug (treatment.)"
She said the work harkens back to her love of science as a child.
It was a love nurtured at Fitch, where she was not only involved with science clubs and activities but also co-captain of the tennis team and a high honors student who spent many after-school hours in community service.
"I haven't seen her in many years but I'm not surprised at all to hear how successful she has become," said Charmaine Mizak, head of the science department at Fitch. "I'm thrilled that she chose to pursue a career in science. It always seemed to be her first love. She was always motivated and mature beyond her years. She did phenomenal work."
Bastien said a hearing impairment she's lived with since the age of 2, which led to her wearing hearing aids, is "pretty much a non-issue these days since everyone generally communicates through email/text or in person rather than phone calls."
She said she sees the hearing aids as an accessory, "just something to put on every morning before I leave my house, similar to how someone who wears glasses would feel about them."
Bastien said it was a natural progression after her graduation from Fitch to major in science. Much of her work at UConn focused on epigenetics, studying "various modification of DNA independent of changes in the sequence, which can cause various changes in gene expression," she wrote.
The work is associated with cancer research since various types of cancers tend to have high levels of these types of modifications to DNA, she said.
"So, in principle, if drugs could be developed to reverse the changes, it could be used to treat cancer ... " she said.
Shortly after landing the job at URI, she married Steven Bastien II, whom she met through a friend at Mystic Seaport in 2004. Her husband and friend both worked at the Seaport in between semesters at UConn.
She was married at St. Sophia's Church in New London with a reception at the Branford House at Avery Point. Her daughter, Alaina, is now 20 months old - "a really delightful child, very talkative, always happy."
The family lives in Stonington but plans a move to Mystic later this month.