Meet Ashley Phetsanthad
Ashley Phetsanthad '18 is in Drexel's Accelerated BS + MS in Chemistry program, which means she'll graduate having earned two degrees in five years. We sat down with Ashley to learn more about her co-ops, classes and favorite Drexel experiences.
Tell us about the co-op experiences you've had at Drexel.
For my first co-op, I worked in a research lab here at Drexel where I gained experience in academic research. My second co-op was at a small pharmaceutical company, where I worked as an analytical chemist testing early-stage pharmaceutical drugs. My third co-op was at Johnson & Johnson in a biochemistry position, where I worked with antibodies. I'm not a big fan of biology, but one of the reasons I picked that co-op was because I wanted to see if I liked biochemistry. After the co-op, I decided that if I ended up in a biochemistry positon, while I wouldn't hate it, it still wouldn't be my first option.
Were you able to use any of Drexel's instrumentation facilities before going on your co-ops?
Yes. Undergraduate research is strongly encouraged in the chemistry department, especially because we have a small student-to-faculty ratio. It's easy to ask a professor if they are accepting any undergraduate students in the lab, and they usually are. I started conducting research on inorganic synthesis in one of the chemistry labs at the end of my freshman year. It's like the dream of chemistry you have when you are a kid — where you're making things and putting them together.
What has been a memorable moment from your co-op or educational experiences?
The most memorable part I'd say is the relationships that I've formed, in both my co-op experiences and here at school. At school, I ended up with really close friends, especially because the chemistry department is small. You do homework together, study together, and genuinely help each other. It's not a competition. You form a kind of family. In my co-ops, it was nice to see how friendly everybody was and how they treated me like a real employee. I wasn't a three-month intern who was going to leave soon — I was there for six months, so it felt like more of a permanent position. It helped me to form those relationships. Even now, I still talk to my former coworkers from co-op.
What was it like working with your coworkers as an undergraduate?
At first, it was weird, because when I had a kind of mental divide — like, 'I'm a co-op here and they're the adults.' But after a short time, I saw that they valued my opinion and really were my coworkers, not my superiors. It's nice to be part of the work environment in a productive way.
What inspires you?
My parents. They emigrated from Thailand a long time ago, because they wanted me to have a better life. Neither of them has a college degree, so that's also why I wanted to pursue a degree — to have a better life and help them later on.
What are some of your goals for the future?
In chemistry, I think it's important to go to graduate school, especially in industry. Over co-op, I saw that there is a ceiling you reach. You're either at a company for a long time and break that ceiling, or you have a higher degree. I realized that I wanted to pick the faster route, even though it meant more studying.
I'm applying to PhD programs right now. The BS + MS program definitely helped prepare me. At first, I thought graduate school was this crazy thing that I couldn't do. After taking the master's courses here, I realized that, while they are harder, they aren't so crazy that I can't understand. Realizing that I was interested in the advanced courses and liked going more in-depth really showed me that it was something I wanted to do.
Do you have any professors or advisers that you are particularly close to?
I interact with multiple types of advisers. I have a graduate adviser because of the master's program, an undergraduate adviser, and a research adviser. We talk a lot about research, but also about classes and life. I remember one time I was really stressed out, I started having this crisis of: "Why am I in college? Am I supposed to be here?" When I went to my research adviser Dr. Kevin Owens, it was kind of like talking to my dad, which was nice, except he knew relevant things about chemistry. It was really good to get that feedback and personal connection.
What are your other interests at Drexel?
We have a Drexel chapter of the American Chemical Society, and I've been involved since freshman year. I was vice president and event coordinator for two years. I have also been working in the Dean's Office of the College of Arts and Sciences since freshman year. It's another great opportunity to meet people. My undergraduate adviser Chuck McNally is here, and we talk all the time. I feel like he knows me well and I've gotten to know everyone else in the office, too.
Do you have any advice for incoming chemistry students at Drexel?
I would say to talk to upperclassmen and your professors. There is such a great opportunity here because we have a smaller department. You really do get to know all of the professors and students. It's good to take advantage of that and talk to them about life, classes, the future. In general, take advantage of the fact that you'll have such close relationships with everybody.
Ashley has been accepted to PhD programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Indiana University and the University of California Irvine, among others. Congrats, Ashley!