Twenty years ago, at the age of five, I got mesmerized by the fascinating world of science. Now, I am a Ph.D. candidate in the biomedical sciences program at Penn State College of Medicine. My main goal as a researcher is to understand the molecular basis of sex differences in lung inflammation to help in the understanding of lung health disparities and in the development of sex-specific therapies. Despite many accomplishments and the skills and knowledge I have pursued and acquired, my journey as a student has not always been easy. Here are some tips that will help you when applying to medical or graduate school:
1. Student organizations and leadership opportunities. During my junior year of college and besides being a member of several organizations, I co-founded iResearch. The purpose of this student organization is to create an environment for professional networking, career awareness and development for undergraduate students in STEM fields. Student organizations are a great way to explore your interests, expand your network and develop your leadership skills.
2. Get an internship and apply for programs that have a commitment to broadening participation in STEM. Internships and special programs will give you the opportunity to explore your field, get experience and build your professional resume. Always keep in mind that you will need letters of recommendation, so this is your chance to make a good impression. If you are interested in biomedical sciences or medicine, these are some of the hands-on summer research internships and programs that I was part of during college:
- Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP)
- The Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, referred to as IINSPIRE LSAMP
- McNair Scholars Program
- Mount Sinai International Exchange Program
- Undergraduate research opportunities at Penn State College of Medicine
3. Identify a mentor. I have had many mentors and advisers throughout my career. Mentors provide knowledge and can see where we need to improve. They always find ways to stimulate our personal and professional growth. Find someone who you admire and respect, and who has a career path similar to the one you aim to follow.
4. Be careful with social media. Nowadays, universities and medical colleges have begun to look at applicant’s profiles on social media sites. Every applicant should recognize the repercussions of this. Protect yourself! On the other hand, unlike Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks, LinkedInis a professional- focused network that you can use to connect with recruiters and learn more about opportunities available in your field.
5. Take initiative, show your passion. We naturally have the predisposition to get trapped on the negative and think about our failures, instead of counting our victories. Initiative and motivation are indispensable. Successful medical and graduate students not only have brilliant ideas but they take initiative and carry them out. If you need help, ask. If you have questions, ask. Don’t be afraid! Obstacles are inevitable, but successful students never give up.
About the author
Nathalie Fuentes is a Ph.D. candidate in the biomedical sciences program at Penn State College of Medicine. Her studies in Dr. Patricia Silveyra’s lab include the development of sex-specific therapies to treat lung diseases, sex differences in asthma-related lung inflammation triggered by ground-level ozone and the role of male and female sex hormones in lung disease. Nathalie is originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico.
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