Pathobiology Graduate Student
As a graduate student in Pathobiology, I am training for a career as a scientist. Pathobiology focuses on the study of the molecular mechanisms of human disease. The field of pathobiology research encompasses immunology, the biology of aging, toxicology and environmental pathology, and cancer biology. I specifically focus on study cancer biology, and the processes that lead to disease progression and cancer invasion.
I was inspired to go into the field of biomedical science at an early age. As a child I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and was told by doctors that the cause of my disease was unknown. At first I felt defenseless and confused, but as I grew older I became fascinated by the study of medicine and wanted to learn more and more about human disease. My personal experience with disease motivated me to go into the field of biomedical research so that I could contribute to our understanding of the way diseases work. I really love my job in research and hope that my findings will aid in the development of treatments for diseases that are poorly understood. The general prerequisites for becoming a Pathobiologist include an undergraduate education to obtain a Bachelor of Science in a biological science (biology, biochemistry, molecular immunology, biomedical engineering, and many other options). Further, graduate school to obtain a Ph.D. is often required if you would like to become a professor or a research scientist who runs a lab. One of the most important prerequisites to attend graduate school in the sciences is to work in a lab and do research, prior to applying to school. In my case, I attended the University of Vermont and received a B.S. in Biochemistry and minor in Pure Mathematics. While at the University of Vermont, I worked in several laboratories to gain experience in the field of research. I worked in a chemistry lab, as well as an environmental pathology lab. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in both labs, and was able to gain a variety of skills by doing such different research projects. After my undergraduate education, I went directly to graduate school and am now working on my Ph.D. research so that I can be an independent scientist in the future.
As a Ph.D. student, I spend most of my time doing experiments in a lab. In general, I am investigating a research question of interest, "what triggers cancer cells to invade and spread throughout the body?" To understand this question, I think of experiments that will allow me to test a hypothesis for how and why this process occurs. In the lab, I culture normal human and cancer cells, and test how a cell's environment and drugs affect the way it behaves. I spend a lot of time using a microscope to visualize how the cells respond to various stimuli, and then track these changes over time. In addition to doing experiments, I spend a lot of time reading science papers to understand the disease I study. When my experiments lead to a new discovery in the field of research, I also write papers to communicate these findings to other scientists. Running experiments can be a large time commitment, meaning that the hours for the job may be long on some days. One of the nice things about doing research and designing your own experiments is that the work schedule can be pretty flexible. Most scientists work together as a collaborative group. In the lab I work in, we have several graduate students and undergraduate students that work together on a given project. The collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students allows us to accomplish more work and form close relationships with each other, so a lab is often like a work family.
One of the hardest things about being a scientist is that there is a lot of trial and error in the research process. It is expected that experiments will fail and yield negative results from time to time, and as a scientist, this is something you must learn to accept. As a result, science can be a stressful career path. When things go wrong, it can be hard to stay motivated, and this makes the job pretty challenging at times. On the other hand, I have found trying to stay strong in the face of failure is a character building experience, and this failure has only made me a better scientist as a whole.
One of the great things about being a scientist is that the job requires constant learning. On a daily basis I am faced with a question with an unknown answer, and my job is to solve that question. It is a really great feeling when you make a scientific discovery and can then share that discovery with other scientists who are passionate about research. Another one of my favorite parts about training to be a scientist is that I get to work independently and design my own experiments. Designing and running your own experiments can be a fun and rewarding experience, especially when you get good results that lead to an interesting research finding.
Scientists are often portrayed as always wearing a lab coat, goggles, and even a hazmat suit. This is true in some cases, for example, when pouring a toxic chemical. In reality, a majority of experiments only require wearing gloves, and the amount of personal protective equipment worn can vary quite a bit depending on the type of experiment being done.
My workplace consists of a regular office- for reading and writing papers, and a lab- for running experiments. Our lab consists of several different rooms, each designated for different purposes. We have a microscope room for all of our imaging experiments, a tissue culture room for carrying out cell work, a main lab for doing the bulk of experiments such as preparing solutions, and 3D printing room where materials are printed with a laser. The dress code in a lab tends to be very comfortable and casual, like jeans and a t-shirt. For safety purposes, most labs require closed toed shoes and long pants to be worn. In addition, a lab coat and safety glasses need to be worn for some experiments where harmful chemicals are used.
The best advice I can offer to a prospective scientist is to find a research lab and see how you like research first hand! A great time to do this is during undergrad, where you can interact with professors and if you are interested in their research, you can learn about potential opportunities to work in a lab. Science is truly a process of discovery, and this includes self discovery. In order to really understand how research works, it is necessary to do the research yourself. Carry out experiments, read scientific literation, fail and succeed. If you enjoy these experiences and look forward to more, then you'll know a career in science is an option for you.
My advice to my younger self would be to not try to do too many things at once. I have always been very ambitious and as a result, I tend to overcommit myself to too many projects and then feel overwhelmed. This is something that I am still working on, but I am learning that it is best to maintain a work-life balance so that you don't burn yourself out. It is important to work hard toward your goals, but it is also essential to set aside some time to relax and enjoy life outside of the workplace.
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