Defining anecdote: It was freshman year, the first day of chemistry class. I had a bit of a panic attack — I’d heard all these stories of how hard chemistry would be, how no one survived. I remember thinking, “Wow, if I screw up these two tests, I’m done as a budding young scientist.” So I went back to my dorm, Shepard, and began furiously studying. It turned out that I loved studying chemistry, and I started thinking that applying chemistry to biology could answer so many important questions.
Turning point: When I met Jonathan Widom, the professor [of molecular biosciences] I work for now. I figured this guy would give me five minutes and then say, “Talk to my grad student.” But he was willing to take an hour of his time on a Saturday to sit down and talk to me about the state of the field and important questions his lab was trying to address. I walked out thinking, “I’m joining right away.”
The lab tries to understand how DNA is organized in a cell and how physical organization of the DNA in the cell affects cell function. My project, defining the organization of the DNA in malaria, will improve our understanding of how the malaria parasite functions, which is going to be of particular interest to people who design new antimalarial drugs.
Favorite class: Molecular genetics with Professor Rick Gaber. We only read recent papers. You learn how to delve into cutting-edge research and understand it for yourself.
What’s next? Graduate school in biomedical science at Harvard.
Dream job? A faculty member at a major research institution with a big lab, trying to understand the molecular basis of life and applying that to learn how human diseases work at a molecular level and how we can develop drugs to eliminate the diseases that affect humanity.
Any regrets? I regret, when I was first starting out, how stubborn I was in the lab. I’ve come to realize that science is like barbecue — it takes a lot of time, a lot of love, and you can’t rush it. But I would try to rush. I wanted every experiment done yesterday. After a few months of being like a bull in a china shop, I started calming down.