There are a million and one things to love about Felichi Arines, or Peach as she prefers to be called. She’s a Sagittarius, she’s met Bill Gates, she’s a microcelebrity within the Biological Sciences Building, she’s built perhaps one of the most lasting legacies a scientist could ever have within the confines of Dr. Ming Li’s lab at the Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Department of the University of Michigan and she’s a fantastically likable Ph.D. candidate to top it all off. You can often find Peach working well into the night, in the lab right next to mine. She might be tucked away into a microscopy room listening to the latest podcast on American politics, or amidst a lab bench cluttered with pipettes — an odd bottle here or there full of growth media — or on the brink of discovering the next big thing about the way every single one of our cells declutters old waste. There is a special sort of glamour to the kind of research Peach does day in and day out despite new-age vortexers, computers and machines that render a finer understanding of cellular processes within minutes — a glamour that lies in something far deeper than anything all the best equipment in the world could offer, but rather in work done with love. Because everybody loves Peach Arines, and Peach loves her work.
In order to make sense of all the twists, turns, trials and triumphs that constitute Peach’s work, it is important to begin with understanding Peach, in her entirety. Peach was born and raised in the Philippines, where she attended a science high school. Yet she stumbled upon becoming a scientist after failing a math exam for the first time and even then she knew with all things in science, a major loss must always come before a big win. She went on to attend the University of the Philippines, majoring in molecular biology and biotechnology. Then, she pursued a five-year research stint at the International Rice Research Institute where she spent her days finding ways to genetically modify golden rice on a project personally funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ultimately, more than anything else, while spending long days and even longer nights at the Research Institute, Peach really was feeding the world, because as she says there is something so exhilarating about solving a genetic puzzle that holds the key to sustaining humanity. And even more so, the rice she had spent so much time painstakingly refining and curating can still be found on dinner tables, paddies and restaurants across the globe.
After sitting down with Peach, I also learned that, although she’s a middle child, she’s one of the lucky few that doesn’t suffer from middle child syndrome — the telltale feeling of exclusion and inadequacy most middle children tend to have. She loves Coelho’s “The Alchemist” for the lesson it holds. The joy of life does not lie in finding treasure at the end of the road but the journey in getting there, not quite unlike Peach’s journey that brought her all the way from the Philippines to a lab bench in Ann Arbor. Peach largely credits her foray into science to her father, who always managed to push her beyond limits she didn’t know existed, and her mother, who managed to run a functioning household while juggling full-time painting, tennis, zumba dancing and carpentry among other seemingly infinite interests. The very same interdisciplinary approach to life Peach was intimately raised with can be seen so clearly in the way she approaches her own work, as she flits from one technique to the next, masterfully handles microscopes, serological pipettes and tubes upon tubes of cells with remarkable ease.
Everybody loves Peach. Her sunny “good-mornings” and her graphic t-shirts chock full of dinosaurs, Marvel characters and flowers lend a splash of light to even the most destitute of tissue culture or microscopy room. But being an international graduate student in the United States, even more so, at a fast-paced, ever-changing, powerhouse like the University comes with its own unique yet infinitely rewarding flair. Peach has had to learn to navigate self-checkout, a 12-hour time difference so that calls back home have become a feat of mental gymnastics, a lab environment so drastically different from the one she so fondly knew back in the Philippines and such an overwhelming array of equipment, resources and bubbly undergraduates she can’t seem to pick a favorite. More importantly, she has learned to become accustomed to dynamically pushing science to its furthest boundaries so often, that in time groundbreaking discoveries about things like the latest membrane recognition mechanisms have become a common defining fixture of life.
Peach hopes to return to the Philippines one day, give back to the country that gave her the most. Peach was made for the lab in any part of the world, for the invigorating thrill and remarkable brevity of it all, and it too, was perfectly designed for her.
MiC Columnist Sarah Akaaboune can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.