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Cancer Biology Program Meet Rusia H. Lee
CBIO Program Class of 2018

Rusia H. Lee, Drexel Cancer Biology Program Class of 2018

Hometown: Queens, New York, New York
Undergraduate: Wesleyan University; Middletown, Connecticut

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself before you came to Drexel?

Before coming to Drexel, I worked as a clinical research coordinator at Mount Sinai in the radiology-oncology department. I knew I wanted to pursue cancer research but I didn't have the bench skills past the high school research programs and the undergraduate lab courses. I knew I needed a structured program that would provide me with a graduate-level knowledge of the sciences and the bench skills to match.

How did you discover your program?

I was looking for a cancer-related research program on the East Coast but I remember that there were not many options available at the time. I remember I came upon the Cancer Biology program at Drexel just weeks before the start of the semester so I rushed to email Dr. Mauricio Reginato, the program director, who got back to me right away.

What was your relationship with the faculty like?

Each program was very close-knit and the faculty and students all knew each other from the core classes. My peers and I felt very comfortable approaching faculty members regarding coursework, rotations and career advice. Dr. Reginato was the program director so I always checked in with him regarding my progress in the program. I ended up choosing to do my thesis research project in his lab and he's been a very supportive mentor in my graduate career till this day. I'm also grateful to my committee members Dr. Eishi Noguchi and Dr. Todd Strochlic, who were very encouraging and supportive throughout my time at Drexel.

How about the relationship with your classmates?

The people I met at Drexel were some of the most supportive groups of friends I have made in my academic career. Many of the students were not Philly natives and were also away from home. We always checked in on each other and were there for each other during the good and bad times. There were many late nights of studying or working in the lab and it was definitely enjoyable together. All of us have since graduated and many are now in a PhD or postdoctoral position or are working in industry.

Can you tell me about the research that you did while at Drexel?

I conducted my master’s thesis project in the lab of Dr. Mauricio Reginato under the guidance of his then PhD student, Zach Bacigalupa. My thesis title was "The Role of CDKs in glioblastoma." We published that RNAi against CDK5 causes apoptosis in malignant human glioblastoma cells lines and that treatment with pan-CDK inhibitor dinaciclib blocks proliferation and anchorage-independent growth. During my time in the Reginato Lab, I was able to contribute to a publication, which was my first publication. I also received animal training and helped perform intracranial and intracardiac injections on mice. I was given the opportunity to train and mentor several undergraduate students, a master’s student and a medical student. During my lab rotations in first year, I rotated in a lab at Wistar Institute for Cancer Research. Retrospectively, I realized that all these experiences have given me exposure to and the skill sets for conducting independent research.

Were you involved with any extracurricular activities? How did these support your academic journey?

During my time at Drexel, I joined an a cappella group called Doctor’s Note along with other Drexel graduate and medical school students. We practiced on a weekly basis singing pop songs for College of Medicine events and even held our own annual concert. It helped build another community outside of the lab, which was where I spent the majority of my second year working on my thesis research project. It was special because it created a space for graduate and medical students to interact with each other. I also was given the opportunity to be a Center for Learning and Academic Success Services (CLASS) tutor to teach other graduate students the core materials outside of the classroom setting. It was a great opportunity to hone my teaching skills and serve as a mentor to more junior students. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in both of these activities because it expanded my network of friends outside of the Graduate School. They provided me with perspective and appreciation for my own work.

What have you been doing since you graduated?

Right after graduation, I started in a PhD program in molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the City University of New York (CUNY). I am currently entering my fifth year in the program studying the role of MDM2 and MDMX in triple negative breast cancer metastasis. I attribute the success I've had in my graduate school career wholeheartedly to the Cancer Biology program, Dr. Reginato and the Drexel faculty.

What advice would you give to a future student?

Be open to opportunities and learn as much as you can. You might not know exactly what job title you want after school or if you want to continue graduate school for a doctorate degree. What is for sure is that if you're open to it, you will learn everything from the tangible skills, like the biochemical assays and the actual benchwork, to the intangible skills, like lab etiquette and how to present data to your team/boss. No matter where you go in science, these are the skills that are highly sought after.