My Science Side: Why a PhD?

When I was younger, under the age of 10, I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Then one day decided that it would be super frustrating to treat patients that couldn’t talk back to me, so being a veterinarian was OUT.

The easy replacement was to become a medical doctor, and somehow I set my eyes on becoming a surgeon.

Therefore, from the 6th grade out, my response to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, was, “A surgeon”. As I got older everything I did was oriented towards the goal of becoming a doctor. Everything I did in high school was so that I could get into the “best” college, so that I could get into the “best” medical school. I got involved in clubs galore, I played music, I played sports, and finally after four years of hard work, I was accepted at Franklin and Marshall College. Why F&M? Well, I could list a million and one reasons but what it came down to was;

1.) I had that “feeling”. Obviously the “feeling” is hard to explain, but the first time I toured the campus I knew that F&M was where I wanted to go. Cheesy? Yes. The truth? Absolutely.


How could you not love this campus??

2.) It had an AMAZING new science building, and an overall excellent science program. (Remember? everything to help me get to med school)

As a freshman I was still thinking, “Med School, Med School, Med School…”. And as a sophomore I was still chanting the same old mantra, but I started to get involved in research with Professor Clara Moore. My objective was still, “Med School”, but my mind began to focus on the research lab and my projects.

As a goal oriented person, it was so hard for me to think about anything but medical school and becoming a doctor. It had been my goal/dream for so long that I couldn’t think of any other possible option.

With Professor Moore as my mentor, I did AMAZING things. I had an internship at Johns Hopkins, I went to a research conference, but most importantly I defended my thesis project. Presenting and defending my thesis is hands down my proudest moment. After my defense, I graduated F&M cum laude with Honors in Biology. BOOM.



But what now? Do I still become a doctor?

Avoiding the decision all together, I got a job as a research technician. Probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Why? Well….

  1. ย The job is super flexible and allows me to explore different forms of SCIENCE ๐Ÿ™‚
  2. I work with amazing people!
  3. I was able to get my Masters in Biotechnology
  4. I FINALLY realized that medical research is my dream job

The Cutting Lab


Number 4, wasn’t truly an “Ah Ha” moment. While working and taking my Masters classes, I slowly began to notice that I had absolutely no motivation to go to medical school. For me, research was what I wanted, and specifically I wanted to go to graduate school in order to earn my PhD.

Once I made that decision, everything just HAPPENED. Unlike studying for the MCATs, I dove into my GRE books. I spent most of the summer studying so that I could apply for Fall 2015 Admission. Before I knew it, it was September and I was taking the GRE! Then holy sh** it was November and I had my applications done. The last thing I needed was my letters of recommendations, and they were done by the deadline in December. Now, it is January, and I am just waiting to hear back (fingers crossed!)

Overall, based on my personal experiences, if I was to give any advice to those about to graduate it would be,

to take your time. Get a job, have fun, explore options, and overall grow as a person.

When we graduate from undergrad we are 22 and so inexperienced. Personally, I needed the time to figure out what was important to me. Not everyone is the same, but if you are a senior in college, and you are unsure about what you want to do with your life. IT IS OK, I promise!ย  I think this quote from Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” perfectly captures how you should feel when graduating.

โ€œYou have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…โ€

I would like to end this post with my “personal statement” that I included in my graduate school applications. I think my personal statement perfectly summarizes my answer to “Why a PhD?”…

My first job in science was cleaning mouse cages. As an eager freshman at Franklin and Marshall hoping to major in Biology, I was willing to do anything that would get me involved in the Biology department. I knew that by getting involved in the department I would gain access to information and skills that could benefit me in any future endeavors in science. Working with Jim, the departmentโ€™s long time technician, I got the behind the scenes look, which allowed me to satisfy my curious nature. As my initial curiosity was mollified, my job sparked so many more questions, and many of them were centered on the mouse cages that we would clean every week. Jim explained that the mice were part of Dr. Clara Mooreโ€™s mouse colony of Ts65Dn mice being bred as a representative model for Down syndrome (DS). But that only left me wanting to know more, and picturing what it would be like to work with Dr. Moore. After a year of interrogating Jim about Dr.Moore and her research, she gave me the opportunity to work in her lab as her new research assistant. I thought all my questions would finally be answered, but little did I know that the questions that began with those smelly mouse cages were just the beginning.

Under Dr. Mooreโ€™s tutelage, I slowly melded my preexisting skills to the investigative environment while simultaneously acquiring a new set ofย  skills. Using fluorescence in situ hybridization I genotyped approximately 100 Ts65Dn mice over the course of my sophomore year. After I expressed my continued interest in her research field, Dr. Moore recommended that I ask her collaborator, Dr. Roger Reeves, for a summer internship. In Dr. Reevesโ€™ lab, I used the mouse breeding information that I had collected and organized at F&M in order to establish a pedigree of both Mooreโ€™s and Reevesโ€™ mouse colonies to track fertile males and their progeny. Entering my junior year at F&M, I was able to begin my own independent research based on previous work from Dr. Mooreโ€™s lab that used the Ts65Dn mouse model in order to investigate congenital heart defects, such as atrioventricular septal defects and mitral valve prolapse, which occur in about 50% of DS newborns. Over my last two years at F&M I used the Ts65Dn mouse model and proteomic techniques to analyze the proteins expressed at embryonic day 13.5 and 14.5, when the final stages of cardiac septation occur. My objective was to identify differentially expressed proteins between the euploid and trisomic mice that may contribute to the observed cardiovascular defects. By the time graduation arrived I was disappointed to leave my project with still so many questions unanswered. However, I was proud of the work that I had accomplished, so I summarized my experiments and findings in a 59-page thesis and presented my findings to both the faculty and students of the Biology department. After about two hours being grilled by my defense committee, I was awarded departmental honors.

Leaving F&M, I still thought I wanted to go to medical school, but I felt an unease stemming from the fact that all my interests and extracurricular activities were grounded in research. I felt this apprehension warranted the need for further exploration. Wanting to meet new challenges and possibly stay in science, I applied to a slew of technician positions, but after interviewing with Dr. Garry Cutting and his lab personnel, I knew what I wanted was to work in his lab. With the guidance of Dr. Cutting and other like-minded, passion driven lab members I have been able to work on a variety of projects ranging from basic technician duties, such as DNA extraction and CFTR genotyping, to my own personal project investigating promoter variants in SLC26A9, a modifier gene thought to contribute to cystic fibrosis-related diabetes. Using techniques such as molecular cloning, site-directed mutagenesis, cell culture, and dual luciferase assays, my objective has been to determine if certain variants at the 3โ€™ end of the gene alter the expression of SLC26A9. Though I started my college career with medical school as the next goal, my experiences in the lab have led to the unequivocal decision that my true driving force is my insatiable desire to answer new questions within the inquisitive and analytical field of research.

However, saying I am interested in research is like saying I am interested in cooking, itโ€™s not very specific. They are so many different areas of research just like they are a multitude of ways you can apply yourself in the kitchen, but my chosen cuisine is human genetics. Throughout the years, my research experiences have revolved around genetics in various ways, and I have always found myself asking more questions especially with regards to the human genome and how variation within the genome affects phenotype. With increasing technological abilities, our wealth of information is constantly expanding. I want to be a part of the future of genetics where we disseminate this superabundance of information into translational medicine accessible by both doctors and patients. Iโ€™m far from done asking questions, and it is my questioning nature that will drive me through my continued education and a successful career as a scientist in human genetics.

Deciding to pursue a PhD was not an easy process for me, but I am SO happy with my decision. Hopefully next week I can post some exiting news! Will I get any interview invitations??


Love always, Arianna the Wandering Pipette

3 thoughts on “My Science Side: Why a PhD?

  1. As the professor who kicked your butt in Genetics, I couldn’t be MORE PROUD! I look forward to using future Franca et al papers in Bio305.

    • THANK YOU! That genetics class was definitely an inspiration because I LOVED IT, even if it kicked my butt ๐Ÿ˜‰

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