Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Penn State University
When did you graduate from Cornell?
"I graduated Cornell in Spring 2015."
What led you down this career path?
"My senior year at Cornell I had a research position in the lab of Dr. Gregory Martin at BTI. I had been looking for a specific research area to pursue that combined my interests in microbiology, evolution, and disease pathogenesis. This research experience showed me that plant pathology is a perfect fit! I've been pursuing a high-level research career in this field ever since, starting at the Cornell Plant Disease Clinic and continuing with graduate school at Penn State."
Can you talk a little bit about what a typical day in your workplace entails?
"As a 2nd year Ph.D. student, I spend half my day taking classes and working on class assignments, and the other half running experiments either in the laboratory or on my computer (the current portion of my thesis I am working on involves a lot of bioinformatics tools...). Most of what I do lately is DNA isolation, amplification, and sequencing to lead to whole genome assembly and annotation for bacterial plant pathogens."
What advice do you have for current Cornellians?
"Hang in there! Cornell is probably going to be the most rigorous four years of your life; after that there's a 1-year adjustment period with a sharp learning curve of how to self-direct your life (at least there was for me and a lot of my peers), and once you're over that hump things get a lot easier!
If you're interested in a career in research, but your grades are not amazing...pursue research opportunities anyway! Don't get discouraged, and keep trying until you find someone who recognizes your passion. My grades weren't great at Cornell, but that didn't keep me from working hard with an excellent research mentor and completing a thorough senior thesis, both of which made possible the next two steps of my career.
If you're pursuing a career in academia post-Cornell, be aware that "funding" is going to be one of your most commonly searched words on google and you should start thinking about what would make you a fundable researcher as soon as possible. The NSF identifies its top students as those with high intellectual merit (research skills, good grades, publications, etc.) and far-reaching, lasting broader impacts (how does your work not only contribute to a body of knowledge, but also directly benefit society; think community service activities like promoting STEM education, or providing outreach to underserved populations). Keep an updated CV and make sure your activities demonstrate these two tenets of fundable research scientists. "