How did you get where you are today?
I had always known I’d go and get a Master’s after my B.S., just because I assumed that’s what most people did. I never really knew what I wanted to do after undergrad (until my 5th year), so I decided to try out the options throughout undergrad: research and industry. I did 2 research internships (REUs) and a co-op. After comparing those experiences, I realized graduate school was the route I wanted to take. I recognized that where I wanted to be in industry, running a lab and/or more managerial roles in Research & Development sectors, would take ~5+ yealy, I’m a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Brown.rs just to get to that point. So, I felt that I’d rather spend that 5 years getting my PhD and have more doors open up for me. I haven’t completely ruled out being a professor, but I appreciate the option to pursue that with a PhD as well. I also felt like I didn’t learn everything I felt I wanted to learn in undergrad, or at least the things I wanted to learn. I wanted to gain more skills/knowledge in different areas, that I wasn’t able to in undergrad. Of course, I enjoy the intellectual rigor and discovery with research too. So, I applied to a bunch of graduate schools and here I am!
What does your research focus on? How did you know you were interested in this type of research?
I’m still in my first year so I’m trying to narrow my research focus. However, my lab works with microfluidics, and I’m currently trying to automate DNA extraction from whole blood using a microfluidic device. Another project I have building from that is identifying genetic markers for preeclampsia to be used as a tool for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to know if they’re at risk for the disease. Eventually I’d like to expand this tool to women that aren’t undergoing IVF, and to low resource areas.
When I was looking at graduate schools I wanted a school that would allow me to explore my global and public health interests simultaneously with engineering, which my lab will. I knew I would be interested in global health and public health after I took a medical Spanish class at Pitt and thought about how bioengineering could be expanded to more public health and/or global health. My lab also works more on the genetic/cellular engineering side, which was my concentration in bioengineering at Pitt, so that was also a part of my search criteria. Some people know exactly what they want to study in graduate school, but I never did, I just knew that I liked cellular engineering and wanted to combine it with global and public health in some way, which my lab is helping me explore. I was given some direction with my projects, but also was able to explore my own interests, which is where the women’s health project came in.
What’s been the hardest thing to adapt to since graduating?
The hardest thing to adapt to has been the flexibility of the work/life/school balance. There’s always something to be doing, and it’s a different pressure than undergraduate work/life/school balance. The class load for me has not been overwhelming since we take 2 courses of our choosing per semester, but every other aspect, like adjusting to a new place, making new friends, figuring out a research direction, making progress in research, and learning to work with my PI, can be overwhelming at times.
Have you had any highlights since graduating?
Yes! I’m going to be attending the Emory Global Health Case Competition with a team from Brown, and have been initiating recruitment efforts for Brown at NSBE conferences. I have also co-founded an organization, Graduate Students of color in STEM at Brown, and I’m excited to begin initiatives through that.
Is there anything you can think of that would’ve helped prepare you more for adulthood?
I don’t feel like an adult yet, I’m like a quasi-adult. So far, the main things I’m more in control of are my health insurance and bills/taxes. So a crash course on those things would’ve been nice.
What have you learned most about yourself since graduating?
I’ve been learning what I tend to prioritize. In that I’ve learned how I work best, where I work best, and the things that make me happy in my free time.
Are you surprised by where you are now?
Yes! I did not think I would be going to an Ivy League school.
What is one of your biggest goals, professionally or personally?
I’d like to eventually start or be a part of an organization that encourages and supports underrepresented students in STEM to do volunteer projects abroad. In general, I’d like to begin an organization encouraging underrepresented students to be excited and involved in STEM.
Can you speak on the work/life balance, what that looks like for you, and how it’s different from undergrad?
I spoke about this a bit before, but the balance is different than undergrad. Depending on your advisor, graduate school can be more flexible than undergrad. I can go to lab at the hours I choose (although this would vary from lab to lab), but it is very easy to get sucked into putting many hours into your research. After lab I can have free time, or I’ll be doing homework. There is this constant looming feeling that you should be doing something related to your thesis/a paper/etc. So I’ve been getting into the habit of writing a bit a week. Also presentations can occur semi-regularly, so I’ve also been putting together slides of my experiments every week.
There is always this constant pressure to be doing something, because you feel as if you aren’t working towards your thesis, you should be, but you also need to take time to relax. So it’s a push/pull with those feelings.
For me, I know I don’t do well early in the morning, so I tend to get to lab around 9:30am, and leave around 5pm. If I have class that day I’ll include that in my time (aka if I had class for 3 hours that day I won’t stay an extra 3 hours in lab). After lab I usually go to the gym or perhaps there’s an event going on that I’d go to. Then I eat and watch TV/do something non-school related and might do a bit of school-related work. I find it a little hard to keep in contact with people via text constantly, and would much rather call people.
Graduate school time management is different than undergrad in many ways, but the biggest difference I’ve seen so far is with classes and grades. In undergrad grades were really what you were working towards in your classes, but as long as you are above a 3.0 in most graduate schools you’re fine, so there’s less of an emphasis on grades. Besides, most of what you’ll learn for your research is what you’ll do in lab and/or read on your own. However in graduate school there many other things you have to worry about like your 2nd year exams, your thesis, going to conferences, keeping up with the current research, etc. In terms of being a researcher that is independent, it is important to understand that your thesis isn’t just all of the experiments you do, you also have to spend time reading and writing. It can be hard to organize all of those tasks on top of the experiments you also have to do. Both undergrad and grad involve a juggling act, but of different things.
What do you do in your free time?
Would you mind leaving contact information for interested students to contact you?
Sure! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org