Faculty Profile: The sky is not the limit for Sheila Nielsen

As her most recent experiment with NASA returns from space, Dr. Sheila Nielsen is hard at work parenting, advising, researching and grant writing. To say she is talented in just one area is an understatement.

Nielsen, a Belgrade native, began her career at MSU as a student and obtained her bachelors degree in microbiology in 1983. She continued her academic career in New York where she obtained her Ph.D. in molecular microbiology at Stony Brook University in 1993.

Nielsen returned to MSU in 2008, only this time with more than 15 years of research under her belt. “I work as the coordinator of the Health Professions Advising Office and help advise pre-med students at MSU,” she said. Nielsen didn’t hesitate when she discussed her favorite part about working in the advising office, “The students. Just the other day I got a call from a student telling me they got accepted into medical school. It is great to be able to help them along that path.”

Her work doesn’t end there. In 2012, Nielsen secured a grant from NASA to conduct an experiment on yeast strains that are known to cause disease. The approximately $100,000 grant was called Micro-6 and allowed Nielsen and five MSU students who helped conduct the experiment to look at how international space travel affects the yeast strains of the disease.

Last Sunday, a second experiment called Micro-8 returned from the International Space Station. This experiment was again led by Nielsen and MSU students and it specifically looked at gene expression, morphology and virulence responses to a yeast strain of a disease called Candida albicans following spaceflight.

Nielsen noted that while she has served as the principal investigator for both experiments, “The students really conduct all of the work and do the experiments. I am there for assistance, but they are the ones making it happen.”

In addition to her research, Nielsen has a son who attends MSU and she serves as the chair of the Advisory Board for the Parent Family Association. Nielsen also sits on the Area Health Education Center board, the Bozeman High School Bio Medical Board and other boards. She also finds time to help with Science Olympiad at the state and local level.

Nielsen has a plethora of duties and programs that she plays an integral role in. Even during her interview, she was at a conference in Pasadena, California. So with all of this, what does she do in her free time? “I enjoy the occasional run, and if I’m lucky I’ll run up Triple Tree,” she said.

Clearly, Nielsen works hard for students at MSU. When asked what her advice to students is, she chuckled and mentioned that while she advises students on a daily basis, MSU students should “follow your passion. While that could be taken negatively, they [students] will know what I mean.”