Hometown: Mount Laurel, New Jersey
Undergraduate: Ursinus College, Bachelor's Degree of Science, Biology Major
Current program: Master of Science in Forensic Science, Concentration in Molecular Biology
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself before you came to Drexel?
I graduated from Ursinus College in 2017 and immediately began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a food safety research lab. I worked on projects studying the shelf life duration of different meat products and how different salt concentrations and storage conditions affect different kinds of meat products. I helped establish the prevalence of certain kinds of bacteria in food sold on shelves at the grocery store, and co-authored several papers and presentations based on my work.
What does a typical day in the forensics program look like?
A typical day for me starts with a run early in the morning. After a shower and some coffee, it's time to grab the train into Philly. I use work study as part of my financial aid package and this year I'm working in a research lab as a DNA analyst, where I go into the lab about two times a week. For lunch, I grab some chicken and rice from the halal cart on the street outside. Class usually isn't until the evening, as many of our professors are current professionals in the field. With COVID-19, most but not all of our classes are online via Zoom. Our labs are still in person so that we can still get the hands-on experience that is so critical for our program. After a long day at New College Building in Center City Philadelphia, I take the train home or go grab dinner at my best friend's apartment, just a few blocks away.
What drew you to forensics, and to the College of Medicine specifically?
I've always been a fan of mysteries, from trying to figure out each Encyclopedia Brown case before he did, to owning my own CSI DNA kit as kid. I've also always been fascinated by DNA --- something so small that can determine what you look like and how your body functions, built up of tiny molecules that we are still learning so much about, and something that can distinguish you from everyone else. My work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture was mostly focused on doing the bacterial DNA analysis for prevalence studies, and I was able to hone my lab techniques over the two years I worked there. I began to think about how my two interests intersected and how I might be able to use the skills I already had with a degree and career in forensics. When I began looking for master’s degree programs, I found the Drexel University College of Medicine program. It seemed like a perfect fit - a program in the city that I love with professionals in the field, with a research project program that looked toward improving and expanding the field of forensics. After an open house, I was sold and immediately began the application process.
How did your undergraduate studies (and/or any work or continuing education experiences you had prior to your current studies) prepare you for your current studies?
During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to work in a microbiology research lab, conducting genetic analyses on bacteria. This gave me the opportunity to learn many important lab techniques that are used in the genetic analysis of all living things. I was fortunate enough to bring those skills with me and hone them at my job at the USDA. Those skills are the same ones that I have gotten to learn more about in my classes, like Molecular Genetics and Forensic DNA analysis. Additionally, during my undergraduate studies, I took several classes that are similar to those I take now in my graduate program; they covered basic material and helped me learn how to study for these types of classes.
What organizations, extracurriculars, research or community service experiences have you been involved in at Drexel? How have they impacted your experience here?
I have work study as part of my financial aid package and through this program I have been able to participate in the Lindy Scholars program and work as a DNA analyst in a biochemical research lab on campus. The Lindy Scholars program is a wonderful program that sends college students to help run an afterschool tutoring program for middle school kids in Philadelphia. Through this wonderful program, I was able to explore more of Philadelphia itself, as well as help inspire a love of learning for kids. My time in the research lab has been equally wonderful, though a bit more applicable to what I want to pursue after my master’s program. Working in Dr. Berkowitz' lab has given me more opportunities to hone my skills and practice genetic analyses of mammals. I have also learned more about what other graduate programs at Drexel do, and I’ve gotten to meet people outside of my program that I otherwise would not have.
What advice would you give incoming students in your program?
I have three pieces of advice that I would give incoming students:
- Do all the reading. It might be a lot - especially for some of the introductory courses in the first year. However, it will help you on tests and to give you a better understanding of the material.
- This is a 24/7 job. It's a tough program and the professors are amazing, but there is a lot of work. In order to do well and succeed, you need to set the time aside and do the work. You will get out what you put into this.
- It sounds counterintuitive to the last point, but you also need to set time aside for yourself. This program is tough and there is a lot of work, but you will burn yourself out if you only focus on that. Do the work, then have a movie night with your best friend afterwards. Do the reading for class, then read a book for fun next. Balance is key.