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Drug Discovery and Development Meet Student Caitlyn Rice

Caitlyn Rice, Drug Discovery and Development Student


Hometown: Macedonia, Ohio
Undergraduate: Kent State University, BS in Biological Sciences
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Drug Discovery and Development


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

I'm from Macedonia, Ohio, but no one usually knows where it is, so I sometimes say Cleveland. I graduated from Kent State University in Biological Sciences last spring semester. I have been interested in drug abuse and how it affects the brain. That is currently what I'm trying to focus on and go into. Previously, I didn't really know exactly what drug discovery entailed or all of the aspects of pharmaceutical research. I didn't know exactly whether I wanted to go straight to a disciplined PhD program, so that's why I reached out and saw my options.

How did you discover Drexel's Drug Discovery and Development (DDD) program?

It's a funny story. My roommate, who is my best friend, applied to the Food Science program on main campus. I was confused because I had thought Drexel was online only. I didn't really hear a lot about Philadelphia in Cleveland. I asked him, “Why are you going to an online school? Don't you want to be immersed in the classroom?” He told me it wasn't online, so I started to look more into Drexel. I saw how the Drug Discovery and Development program was in person and it fit exactly what I was looking for. I really knew nothing about Philadelphia, but everyone was so helpful. During my interview, talking to Dr. McGonigle and Dr. Mathiasen helped put me at ease about the move. They seemed very happy while expressing their passion for science, and that's really what I wanted: to go somewhere where the people were going to help me evolve my passion for science.

How are you liking Philadelphia?

I really like it. Ultimately my dream is to go out west to San Diego because I fell in love with that city when I visited there last summer, but Philadelphia is great. It's a huge city and has a lot going on. I call Cleveland a suburban city, but Philly is a city-city.

How has the program been so far?

The program has been great and extremely helpful. We have been exposed to so many different scientists, from pharmaceutical companies to different universities. From the PhD students to the post-docs and PIs, everyone on the pharmacology floor is willing to help you out to make sure that you are progressing in the way that you want to. I haven't felt alone, which is how I sometimes felt in my undergraduate science program, but I haven't felt that once here.

What is your relationship with the faculty like?

Dr. McGonigle—I call him Dr. McG—he has been helping me look toward PhD programs in regards to helping me become a competitive student in applying. Dr. Mathiasen has really helped me in my main classes, like physiology, and she's also helped me with a huge presentation that I have coming up. It's going to be my first big presentation as a growing scientist. My principal investigator, Dr. Mortensen, has been helping me with my lab techniques, and he is making sure that I look at things objectively as a scientist, not just in the lab but also when it comes to reading papers. It's not just about getting the overall concept, but actually understanding what the scientists are doing in a way that I could perform.

What is your relationship with your classmates like?

It's been really cool. We have a lot of Chinese students in the program who are really excited to engage with the American students and work with us. It's cool because I'm also taking away from them what some of their traditions are and learning what they're used to. It's been really fun, and I've already made three of my best friends in the program, and we've only known each other since August.

Can you tell me about the research that you are doing?

I work with dopamine transporters. Previously, my lab worked with dopamine transporters to see how it interacts with cocaine. They were looking at different compounds to see whether they can decrease the affinity of cocaine from the binding area. They successfully found and identified one of these compounds. Right now, I'm looking at where those compounds are specifically binding to cocaine and how it is interacting with it. In the next few months, I'm going to be looking at this compound within animal models and see whether or not it decreases cocaine seeking.

Are you involved with any extracurricular activities?

Yes. I am the representative for the Drug Discovery and Development program in the Graduate Student Association (GSA). I report back to my classmates what's going on within GSA. Also, Dr. McGonigle and I are trying to set up a program in which we bring back all the alumnae from the Drug Discovery and Development program. They've been really successful in joining different pharmaceutical companies or going on to professional studies, like a PhD or MD programs, so it would be great to have a mixer with them and the current DDD students. I am also working as a pharmacy technician, and that takes up a lot of time.

How are you able to balance working and being in grad school?

My number one thing is support from not only here in the program, but also from my family. My family has helped me on the nights where I am feeling overwhelmed by everything that I have going on. Also, my planner is huge, but it helps me out so much. I've never in my life had so many different schedules. I have my digital schedule, a schedule on my phone, and then my planner. That is how I'm trying to balance everything—well, that and coffee, coffee, coffee!

What skills have you developed so far in the program?

I've picked up a lot of professional skills. Communication is a big one. I'm learning how to branch out in presentations and how to speak like a scientist. Communication has also been important when it comes to working with my classmates from China due to the language barriers we have. I've also developed networking skills. There are so many people from industry and from academia that this program exposes you to.

You mentioned that are you planning to pursue a PhD. What are your long-term goals?

I want to go into industry. My overall career goal is to become a principal scientist one day, but after the PhD program, I definitely want to go into industry and see what that side is like. I really want to get a drug down the pipeline and personally see it go to market. We had one scientist come in and say he was working on his fifth drug going to market. I think that's really cool. I can't even imagine one going, so that's what I want to work for and achieve.

What advice would you give to a future student in the Drug Discovery and Development program?

I think the best advice that can be given to anyone, regardless of their interests, is to follow their passion. Even if it takes years and you don't see the reward right away, continue to go for it. Specifically for this program, I would tell people to never stay to themselves. Talk to everyone. From PIs to post-docs and other master's students—as well as the undergraduate students who come to shadow—talk to them. You can learn from everyone's experiences, and I think it's how you can grow in this program. It's also important to keep trying. There will be times when you get discouraged and feel like there's so much that you don't know or there's so much left to learn, but just keep learning and keep pushing.

Hand and isolated test tube in a research laboratory.