Women, graduate studies, and STEM

Women, graduate studies, and STEM

Historically, the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—have been dominated by men. Today, that picture is changing, thanks to women like these who are pursuing advanced study in fields that will undoubtedly make the world a better, healthier, more connected place.

Graduate students play such an important role here at the University of Rochester—they teach, they mentor, and they conduct important research.For instance, these graduate students are addressing disease with tissue engineering; exploring tendon healing, regeneration, and engineering; understanding the role between evolutionary genetics and health; and gaining the analytical skills needed to be an effective entrepreneur.

Marian Ackun-Farmmer
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Anticipated Graduation Year: 2021
Degree: PhD
Research Group: Benoit Lab, which is working on potent site-directed therapy to treat bone diseases, with a focus on osteoporosis.

Why did you pick the University of Rochester?
I chose the University because of the different research opportunities available in the biomedical engineering department (BME). I really like that the research spanned many disciplines. I liked that the work being done also appeared to be multidisciplinary.

Before I made my decision to come to the school, I also spoke with a few faculty members who were enthusiastic about their work and about training graduate students. When I came for my visit, I was able to see how close the medical school was to Goergen Hall and I was able to speak to students in different labs. I like the fact that there was more than one person I wanted to work with at the University and that the students I spoke to did not seem concerned about funding.

What lab did you choose and why?
I chose the Benoit lab because my interests overlapped very well with the work being conducted in the lab. In addition, I really liked the group dynamic in and out the lab.

What is your research project?
I am currently a rising second year student. My current project involves the use of a polymer based nanoparticle system for targeted drug delivery to high remodeling areas of bone.

What have you enjoyed most about your training so far?
I have enjoyed the discovery part of my training. I have learned a lot of techniques and have been given the autonomy to complete projects that are interesting to me.

What are your plans for the future? Where would you like to be in 5-10 years?
I hope to work in academia. Ideally I would like to run my own lab and mentor graduate students as well as undergraduates. I hope to get a post-doc position that will challenge me and build me up to be an investigator.

When should you start networking for academic opportunities? How did you start?
You should always be networking. Never let anyone tell you that it’s too early. I started pursuing research opportunities during my freshman year in undergrad because I honestly wasn’t sure what research was. I wanted to learn more about it, just to see if it was an experience I would enjoy and something that I would want to continue pursuing.

I applied to Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) programs as a start and networked with investigators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) my freshman year and continued with networking within investigators in my internships at my undergraduate institutions.

Sabrina Pan
Hometown: Changsha, Hunan (China)
Anticipated Graduation Year: 2020
Degree: PhD
Program: Biomedical Engineering PhD program
Research Group: Kuo Lab, which works on tissue engineering with stem cells, mechanobiology of tissue formation, etiology of birth defects, and scarless would healing.

Why did you pick the University of Rochester?
I think the biomedical engineering program here has very diverse research areas among labs, and I really like the collaborative atmosphere. As a student interested in musculoskeletal research, my experience is not limited to the Department of Biomedical Engineering—I’m also able to work with people from the Department of Orthopaedics and the Center for Musculoskeletal Research.

Why did you choose biomedical engineering?
I like working with cells and tissues, and I also want to learn problem-solving skills, which will be useful in my future career.

What lab did you choose and why?
I am now a student in the Kuo lab. Dr. Kuo gives the students freedom to choose their own research focus, and she is very hands-on regarding to making herself available for meetings and discussions. Besides, I am personally interested in working with stem cells and tissue regeneration, so the research of this lab is intimately related to my research interests.

What is your research project and why is it important?
Our lab focuses on tendon research. Tendon injuries are a common clinical problem and tendon heals as scar tissue due to poor innate healing ability. My current project focus on LOX-mediated crosslinking of tendon, which is a critical contributor to tendon mechanical properties. Understanding of the mechanisms of LOX regulation during normal tendon developmental can be used to inform tendon healing, tendon regeneration and tendon engineering.

What have you enjoyed most about your training so far?
By working with my advisor so closely, I think I have been learning a lot in a relatively short period of time. I was very excited when I completed each experiment and got data to tell an interesting story. The process of troubleshooting is also a great chance to learn something new. And since our lab is collaborating with surgeons and clinicians, and they have been coming to our weekly lab meeting, it is a great opportunity to work with people with different background and perspectives.

What are your plans for the future? Where would you like to be in 5-10 years?
I hope to continue doing research or scientific study whether I stay in academia or go into industry. But I would like to have different experiences in many different places.

When should you start networking for academic opportunities? How did you start?
It is probably better to start as early as possible, but I will not be concerned until 3rd year or 4th year of PhD training. There are several organizations here that help student to get prepared for future careers that I will use as resources. My advisor also has a very broad network, not only in the tendon research field but also in many other fields of scientific research.

Cara Brand
Fair Lawn, NJ
Graduation Year: 
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Why did you choose the University of Rochester for your graduate program?
The University of Rochester is a leader in evolutionary genetics. The biology department is small, but has many well-known faculty members. As a result, you get multiple mentors to help guide you through your dissertation work.

What is your research experience/project?
I study the evolutionary genetics of meiosis using the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. Specifically, I study the evolution of recombination, the exchange of genetic material during meiosis. Additionally, I study the selfish genetic system Segregation Distorter, which biases chromosomal segregation during meiosis so it is passed to a majority of offspring.

What is your experience with research opportunities at Rochester?
My entire program is research-based, so I actually take very few classes.

What is your favorite part about life on campus?
I enjoying running, and the University’s proximity to the Genesee River Trailway is nice. After work, I can just step outside and go running along the Genesee River.

What is your experience living in Rochester?
I’ve always enjoyed the restaurants and nightlife Rochester has to offer. There are many farm-to-table restaurants and specialty cocktail bars and microbreweries. The quality of these restaurants is often on par with those in big cities, except way cheaper!

Who is your favorite faculty member, and why?
John Jaenike in the biology department is my favorite faculty member. John is knowledgeable about a wide variety of science, so you can talk to him about anything! I always enjoy hearing his perspective on science as well as the many experiences he’s collected over the course of his successful career.

Anything else you want a prospective student to know about Rochester?
Rochester may have tough winters, but we have wonderful summers filled with festivals every weekend. It definitely makes up for the cold months!

What are your tentative plans after graduation?
I plan on pursing a post-doctoral position at an academic institution. This type of position will allow me to broaden my skillset and prepare me to either run my own lab as a tenure track researcher, or help me transition into a field in industry, like drug development.

What is your experience with professional development opportunities at Rochester?
Conferences are a great way to meet people in your field and hear about the work going on in other labs. Sometimes going to these conferences is tough because of traveling expenses. However, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) at Rochester is pretty generous with travel awards, which help pay for conference fees. This year I received a travel award from the GSA, and it made going to the Evolution Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, a lot easier financially.

Can you tell us about your experience as a woman in a PhD program in the sciences?
There are very few women in the sciences, which is sometimes a struggle. I’m excited because the biology department hired the first two women faculty members in the ecology and evolution program within the past few years: Jenn Brisson and Amanda Larracuente. I think they will be great mentors for the female graduate students in my program because they can provide a different perspective on a career in science.

Additionally, I attend the Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) meetings, which bring in outside speakers who share their life experiences. The speakers are women in science who come from a wide range of science professions such as faculty members, journalists, and government agencies.

Pooja Bansal
Hometown: Chandigarh, India
Graduation Year: 2018
Program: Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM)
Degree: Master of Science

Why did you choose the University of Rochester?
I was looking for a program that would offer me classes in both business and data science. I shortlisted a few universities along with the University of Rochester and eventually chose it because of its highly-reputable Simon Business School and the flexible curriculum that allowed me to cherry-pick my data science courses along the way. Also, I was impressed by the mid-sized community and its brilliant array of diversity.

What is your research experience/project? What do you study?
I am an MS candidate in the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) program with a technical concentration in data science. I study how to have an entrepreneurial mindset and how to make my work more effective using data science. My current projects are focused on the entrepreneurial domain, wherein we research patents and present ideas to a panel. I am looking forward to taking on some really interesting data science projects next semester.

What is your experience with research opportunities?
I am greatly interested in doing research in the supply chain domain. We have some top-notch faculty in this field, and I hope to have the opportunity to work with them in the future.

What is your favorite part about campus?
I love the beautiful trails in and around campus. The campus offers a great environment to dedicate my whole day studying, eating, and strolling. Carlson and Simon are two of my favorite spots on campus.

What do you like about living in Rochester?
I live in Goler House and have found it to be super convenient so far, given its close proximity to the campus, quick shuttle service, and easy accessibility to basic needs. Having never seen snow, I am looking forward to the city’s much talked about winter!

What has your experience with professional development been?
Ms. Kathy Driscoll, the program’s assistant director for career management, is an amazing mentor and has always offered the best of her guidance regarding various professional opportunities. The University also offers various technical clubs that further foster real-world skills. Currently, I am part of the Data Analytics Club and am participating in the Hult Prize Competition. These are both wonderful opportunities to help me build both confidence and a solid foundation for my practical skills.

Read more Arts, Sciences & Engineering graduate student profiles, including these in biomedical engineering.

Advance graduate education
To learn how you can help nurture educational excellence and advance the professional and personal growth of our graduate students, contact Stephen A. Dare, Senior Associate Vice President of University Advancement, at (585) 275-7530.

—Kristine Thompson, January 2018 (with profiles selected from www.rochester.edu)

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