Student Spotlight: Tara Bracken

trainee Tara Bracken

Tara Bracken, from Alpharetta, Georgia, is a Ph.D. student in Julie Moore’s laboratory. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia where she did her undergraduate research with Richard Guerrant at the Center for Global Health. Her project focused on how thrombosis contributes to severe malaria pathogenesis.


Tara came to UGA in the fall of 2011 to pursue her Ph. D. in infectious diseases.

“I was looking for a good tropical disease program, and you really can’t beat the range and quality of parasitology labs at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.”

Tara wanted to study malaria and joined Moore’s laboratory in spring of 2012.

“I liked the host/pathogen interaction aspect of Julie’s work. Plus I just liked Julie and thought she’d be a good mentor.”

The focus of Tara’s research is on the role of Tissue Factor, the initiator of the extrinsic pathway of coagulation in mediating the pathogenesis of two severe clinical manifestations of malaria, placental and cerebral malaria. The major aim of her project is to answer these two questions:

  1. How inflammation and coagulation behave in the context of these diseases?
  2. How inflammation and coagulation contribute to malaria pathogenesis?

“The placental malaria part of my project had just been funded when I joined the lab. The cerebral malaria component of my project ended up being a happy accident – I noticed an unusual pattern in Tissue Factor activity in the brains of infected mice while optimizing a technique for my pregnancy project and got curious about what was going on – two years later it comprises half my dissertation work!”

In addition to her lab work, Tara has also served as an intern for the UGA News Services (read her articles) and UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine Public Relations Department. She serves as blog editor and science writer for The Athens Science Observer, a student-run online science publication, a PLoS student blogger, and runs her own science blog – Of Microbes and Men).

During her time at UGA, Tara has received the Sydney Ewing Fellowship in Vector Biology/Parasitology and the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis Young Investigator Award. She was also chosen to give a talk on the dangers of sensationalist headlines in scientific communication at the 2015 TEDxUGA Student Idea Showcase.


Tara, along with fellow CTEGD graduate student Jennifer Dumaine, has been selected as one of ten finalists for the 2016 Three Minute Thesis Competition. The competition will take place on Wednesday, April 6 at Cine BarCafe (2354 W. Hancock Ave.) at 7:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Each finalist will have 3 minutes to present a compelling talk on their thesis topic. The purpose is to provide students with the opportunity to consolidate their ideas and crystalize their research discoveries for a wider audience.


Tara will graduate this summer and wants to pursue a career in science communication.

“I’m passionate about opening up the scientific community to non-scientists, guiding them through a scientist’s thought process and the nuances of recent findings so that they can really appreciate and understand what we do and why we do it.”