Meet Ann Haftl
Degree: BS + MS Chemistry '19, Concentration in Biochemistry, Certificate in Philosophy of Science and Technology
Research Interests: Drug discovery and rational design; biochemistry; organic synthesis and peptide synthesis; disease prevention and treatment
Co-ops: Research Assistant, Drexel College of Medicine (two co-ops)
Extracurricular Activities: American Chemical Society, The Triangle, Maya literary magazine, Pennoni Honors College, Rock to the Future (a nonprofit musical education group for underprivileged kids in Philadelphia)
Awards: Bruce and Cynthia Maryanoff Prize for Research, First-Year 4.0 GPA Award, Dean's List
Tell us about your co-op experiences. How did they enhance your Drexel experience or affect your career path?
Both of my co-ops have been in the biochemistry department in Drexel's College of Medicine. I worked in the research lab of Dr. Irwin Chaiken, studying compounds that block HIV-1 infection of healthy cells. My day-to-day responsibilities include synthesizing new compounds to test with the HIV-1 pseudovirus, training other employees on the analytical chemistry instruments, and running cell-based assays with our compounds to see how effective they are. Part of the research has been published in a paper by the Royal Society of Chemistry, and I got to present my findings during a special HIV-1/AIDS conference at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C.
My co-ops had a major influence on my decision to join the accelerated BS + MS program and pursue a PhD in biochemistry. I am interested in research fields that broadly impact public health and contribute to global solutions for a better world. Since my co-ops ended, I have stayed in the lab part time to complete my MS thesis.
What research experiences have you had as a Drexel student?
Most of the research I've done at Drexel has been through my co-op position in the biochemistry department, but I also participated in the STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) program the summer following my freshman year. In STAR, I worked under Anthony Addison, PhD, in the chemistry department, helping to design a new synthesis pathway for N-alkylated benzimidazoles. We made some progress in the first few steps of the synthesis pathway, and I stayed on throughout my sophomore year to help finish the research. We designed and presented research posters on the project at the STAR showcase on campus.
Best/coolest part of the research you conducted?
The coolest part of my research is seeing a large portion of the process that goes into drug development. For my thesis, I work from beginning to end by developing, synthesizing, purifying and then testing my compounds. I get to work both in chemistry and with cells for these tests, and the interdisciplinary efforts are what make my research exciting and challenging.
How did your research experiences enhance your Drexel experience or affect your career path?
Before going into research, I had no idea which career path I would take. Now I'm planning to get two more degrees than I had originally thought and staying in the biochemistry research field. I think doing research at some point in college is so important. You either find that you love it or that you don't, but the skills you learn while doing actual hands-on research are completely invaluable and set you at a much higher level when applying to jobs.
Have you taken advantage of any opportunities to travel at Drexel, whether through study, research or co-op abroad, or a travel course?
At the end of my third year, I participated in Drexel Alternative Spring Break and traveled to Louisiana to help rebuild houses affected by a hurricane. The experience was so positive and life changing that I plan on doing ASB again every year until I graduate. I got to learn about the culture of towns that are at risk from natural disasters and meet some of the most resilient people ever. Getting to work with strangers to help rebuild homes and lives was an unforgettable experience. And we made tons of new friends!
I also recently took a one-week travel course through the Honors College called Tribal Water Rights in the Great Lakes Region. Through the course, we explored Michigan, met tribal members from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, heard talks from legal and political leaders who help make policy regarding tribal rights, and learned so much about tribal law. Addressing the preconceived notions that we, as a class, had about Native peoples during the trip was eye opening. We all got a lot more out of the experience than a traditional class would have allowed.
The one-week travel courses Drexel offers are an amazing way to fit some study abroad into your busy schedule. Keeping a broad perspective on life is so important, and travel always helps me understand that we truly are all in this together, as a local and global community.
What has made your experience at Drexel "special" or "unique"?
The most special part of my Drexel education has been my push to always take a diverse array of classes and keep up with different interests. It's extremely important to have an interdisciplinary education and college experience to broaden your perspective and apply scientific knowledge to concepts such as public health, politics and community growth. There's no way to be an effective scientist in our generation without having a clear understanding of the social sciences and the political climate. It's important to be not just a scientist, but also a contributor to the world around us, and I really believe that an interdisciplinary approach to learning is key to doing that effectively.
What advice do you have for a high school student looking for an undergraduate program in chemistry?
Just because chemistry is a difficult field doesn't mean you should be scared to join a chemistry program! The chemistry department at Drexel is like a family. We're small but mighty, and we have the resources to hold up to several other large universities. Additionally, the peer-to-peer and faculty-to-student support is incredibly strong. If you're passionate about chemistry, joining the field as an undergraduate will be fun, and you will make it through! Plus, chemistry is such a wide field that it's a really great place to start if you're not sure where you want to eventually end up.
Why would you recommend your degree program at Drexel to other prospective students?
My BS + MS degree program is a little daunting but worth it, especially for those students considering a career in research and/or academia. It's too good of a trade-off to get two degrees in the time it takes many students to get one! Plus, you'll be exposed to a lot more coursework in your field and will be super qualified to get a job right after graduation.