RECENT BIOLOGY GRADUATE -- DOCTORAL PROGRAM
Why graduate school?
I decided to go to graduate school because I was interested in asking and answering scientific questions. However long term, I also want a career in academia where I can be active in the classroom, and train and mentor students in a research setting. I knew that graduate school was the next step towards achieving these goals.
Why did you select UNC?
I selected UNC because I was interested in studying snake venoms, and the Department of Biological Sciences has one of the best venom researchers in the world, Steve Mackessy. In addition, the University and Department offer a tremendous amount of support to graduate students and you truly have endless research and teaching opportunities. UNC was the perfect place to advance my career goals.
Tell us a little about what you're doing now, post-graduation from UNC.
I am currently a postdoc in the Department of Medical Laboratory and Radiation Sciences at the University of Vermont. I’m leading a project investigating the chromatin structure and genomic landscape of human herpes virus-6, a virus that 95-100% of the human population harbors. However, there are critical gaps in our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of HHV-6 integration, latency and reactivation, including the mechanism by which viral gene expression is controlled, and I am currently working towards addressing these questions. In addition, I have also maintained a very nice collaboration with my PhD advisor, and we have continued to dig deeper into the world of snake venoms!
Explain how your degree aided you in achieving your goals.
My degree at UNC aided me in achieving my goals by training me to become an independent scientist, teacher, and research mentor. In the laboratory, I had a tremendous amount of freedom and support from my advisor and colleagues, which truly helped me become the researcher I wanted to be, all while answering some really interesting scientific questions. I also had the opportunity to train and mentor undergraduate students interested in gaining laboratory research experience, which is important to me.
The School of Biological Sciences also offers numerous teaching opportunities, as a teaching assistant for laboratory sections of a course, and also as an instructor during the doctoral supervised teaching requirement for a doctoral degree. Having the opportunity to teach in a laboratory and lecture setting was a fantastic experience and pivotal to my overall training.
Further, University events, such as the annual Research Day held during the Spring semester, and the teaching workshops at the beginning of every Fall semester, are great experiences. They are a fantastic way to meet people in other departments, as well as for learning about other research activities occurring throughout campus. These events really promote a collaborative environment!
Please explain how the journey of graduate school has changed you.
It was all such a great learning experience! UNC and the Department of Biological Sciences really provided me with the opportunity to grow into the researcher and teacher that I want to be. Unlike other graduate programs where you might just teach, or do research, I had the opportunity to do both at UNC, which provided me with significant training towards pursing an academic career. The amount of support provided by faculty and administration truly sets you up to succeed and pursue your career goals.
Were there any strategies you found helpful to keep you on track to complete your degree?
One strategy that I found most helpful was to keep open communication with my advisor and graduate committee, and to regularly discuss my goals and the best way of achieving those goals. I also found it helpful to establish relationships with individuals outside of my laboratory, or my research area of interest. These relationships really provide an opportunity to think outside the box and to come up with some exciting research questions and novel approaches to teaching. Lastly, and maybe the most importantly, set time aside for your health and well-being outside the academic setting.