Alumni

Alejandra 2Alejandra M. Gomez

Major: Genetics
Minor: Anthropology 

Graduation Year: 2010


How did you decide on your major?

I chose Genetics as my major right from the get go because I was interested in learning about how small simple changes in our DNA can cause such drastic differences seen in genetic diseases. I was interesting in understanding about the disease processes from a molecular genetics standpoint

What did you like most about it?

What I liked most about my Genetics major was the wide range of subjects that genetics can be involved in from molecular genetic research, medication/treatment development all the way to patient care and management. At Rutgers we had opportunities to work on research with our professors and attend meetings hosted by the Association of Undergraduate Geneticists (AUG), about the latest topics in genetics and careers in genetics.

Alejandra 1What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

Presently, I am a Genetic Counselor at a Hospital in New Jersey. What I like most about my position is that I get to use my knowledge of genetics to work with a multidisciplinary team to help better guide treatment and patient care. Additionally I get to be part of our patient’s journey into the world of genetics starting from a diagnosis through medical management and even treatment in some cases.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

Once I graduated from Rutgers I went straight into graduate school for Genetic Counseling. Once I graduated with my masters, my first job was at a laboratory as a laboratory genetic counselor who would act as a liaison between physicians ordering genetic testing and the laboratory which would be performing the genetic testing. The position was one of the few available in north New Jersey where I would be able to use my new found skills as a Genetic Counselor and still stay close to my hometown.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

While working at the laboratory I learned the ins and outs of how a laboratory runs and continued to learn about how genetic diseases can affect different patient’s. I attended a national conference hosted by the American College of Medical Genetics where I encountered a posting for a position as a clinical Genetic Counselor in a pediatric department which would involve much more direct patient care. I interviewed for the position at the conference that same week and was starting at my new position two months later.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

My physics class at Rutgers challenged me in ways that I had not been challenged before. Thankfully our professor had such a love of physics and really wanted you to understand the concepts not just pass the class. He would hold weekly Friday review session where he would take the time to explain the concepts covered in class in a new way and also gave us more opportunities to ask questions. This class and professor not only taught me about the world of physics, but taught me about perseverance and that with hard work I could achieve great lengths.

I was also part of two programs offered at Rutgers that were integral to my success in the sciences and my drive to become a genetic counselor. The first program was ODASIS (Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences) which helped to guide me through the core course work such as Biology, Physics, Calculus, and Organic Chemistry. They offered a safe space to study with other students, and provided tutoring and mentoring programs. Everyone involved from the students to the tutors and the staff, wanted you to succeed and become a role model for and be a representative of minorities in the medical field, allied health fields and science fields in general.

The second program that helped launch me into my career path was not a program at the time but a pilot program that currently exists at Rutgers. At present the program is known as the Rutgers Genetic Counseling Certificate Program and is spearheaded by Dr. Gary Heiman, GCCP Program Director. At the time that I was involved it consisted of mentorship and guidance from the director about how to best shape your academic and extracurricular activities to apply for Genetic Counseling graduate school. The program also consisted of volunteering with a patient advocate/patient research program and experience shadowing a Genetic Counseling in the clinical setting. The program helped shape me into the best candidate for a genetic counseling graduate program, with the result being my acceptance to graduate school once graduating from Rutgers.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

The best advice I can give current students is to not be afraid of asking for and seeking help. Everyone at Rutgers wants you to succeed and have the resources to help you get where you want to go. Hard work will be involved as well but with a great support system the sky is the limit.

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Brianna McDanielsMcDaniels 1

Major: Genetics
Minor: Psychology
Genetic Counseling Certificate

Graduation Year: 2016


How did you decide on your major?

I chose Genetics as my major because I was personally diagnosed with a rare disease, called Histiocytosis, at 6 weeks old. As I grew curious about what made me different, I began researching the cause of my own condition and learned that it had been linked to mutations in the BRAF oncogene. Learning this information made me feel empowered in navigating my diagnosis. Thus, I knew that I wanted to learn more about genetics and help other people in the rare disease community.

What did you like most about it?

I enjoyed the opportunity to gain hands on experience throughout the major. I was able to work in a laboratory on campus that explored the relationship between oxidative stress and DNA damage in cancer cells. I also participated in the genetic counseling certificate program, which fueled my passion for genetic counseling as a career.

McDaniels 2What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I currently work as a cancer genetic counselor at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. I work with cancer patients who were either diagnosed with cancer at a young age or have a family history of cancer to help them determine if their cancer is caused by an inherited mutation in their DNA. I educate patients about cancer genetics, coordinate genetic testing, explain genetic testing results, and provide psychosocial support. My favorite part of my job is being able to help patients prevent future cancer diagnoses in themselves and their family members.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

After I graduated from Rutgers in 2016, I attended Emory University School of Medicine and obtained my Master of Medical Science degree in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling. One of the reasons I got into a graduate program directly after graduating was because I gained experience from participating in the Genetic Counseling Certificate Program on campus. Through the program, I shadowed genetic counselors for an entire semester, volunteered on a suicide hotline, and took courses well suited for genetic counseling. This gave me an advantage over other applicants when applying.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

As I was searching for jobs, I knew I wanted to work near Rutgers, so I emailed one of my previous professors to ask if he knew of any jobs in the area. He put me into contact with one of the genetic counselors at the Cancer Institute of NJ, they interviewed me, and I was hired! It pays to maintain the connections you develop while you’re a student.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

I definitely owe a lot of my success to the Genetic Counseling Certificate Program on campus. Without participating in that program, I likely would not have been able to go directly into a graduate program. I also contribute some of my success to Rutgers fostering a welcoming environment for minority students on campus. They have several programs in place (scholarships, ODASIS, etc.) to make sure minority students do not slip through the cracks.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

Learn as much about different careers as you can prior to graduation. Attend outside lectures, volunteer, talk to your professors about their career paths, and try to figure out what field of work is best for your interests. Once you find something that you are passionate about, try to gain hands on experience in whatever way you can. All of these things will make you a better candidate for whatever job/ graduate program you apply to after graduation.

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Ghanaim 1Elena Ghanaim

Major: Genetics
Minor: Psychology and Philosophy
Genetic Counseling Certificate

Graduation Year: 2015


How did you decide on your major?

I first became interested in the field of genetics in high school during an elective biology course dedicated to the topic. I was especially interested in the societal and ethical implications of genetics—on the one hand, the massive potential for genetics to help diagnose and precisely treat disease, but on the other side, questions about eugenics, unintended or unforeseen consequences of genetic technologies, etc. Before arriving at Rutgers, I knew that I would major in Genetics.

What did you like most about it?

I enjoyed taking smaller sized classes and especially the electives such as those about evolutionary genetics. Most of all, I treasure the time I spent in the lab. I think this gave me a fantastic perspective on basic science.

Ghanaim 2What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I am a Policy Analyst at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI/NIH). I synthesize information from multiple sources to understand and predict the implications of new policies, with a focus on genomic data sharing. I love that I sit at the intersection of science, policy,media,and law.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

I applied for and was accepted to the post-baccalaureate research (IRTA) fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I worked in a Drosophila lab for two years at the National Institute for Child Health and Development(NICHD). Like at Rutgers, I worked as a genetics researcher.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

After my IRTA fellowship,I returned to school. I enrolled in the master’s program in Bioethics and Science Policy at Duke University. As part of the program, I interned in the Division of Policy, Communications, and Education at NHGRI. This opportunity helped me to transition into the position I currently hold at the NIH.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

I learned and gained so much from working in Dr. Schindler’s lab at Rutgers. I learned reading, writing, and critical thinking skills and my experience in the lab helped me to get my first position at the NIH. My lab experience still helps me today as I navigate the world of science policy as I am able to relate and understand the NIH intramural and extramural investigators that I work with.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

Don’t let ‘failures’set you back. Follow your interests, find good mentors, and always work hard!

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GodrichDana Godrich

Major: Genetics
Computational Genetics Certificate

Graduation Year: 2018


How did you decide on your major?

I originally chose to major in Genetics because, for as long as I can remember, I was curious about genetic disorders like Down Syndrome. Since I began the genetics track, my initial interests certainly did not fade, but I managed to expand on my scientific interests into topics such as computational genetics, statistical genetics, and evolutionary genetics. Currently, I am looking forward to expanding on these curiosities even more by applying for Computational Genetics PhD programs.

What did you like most about it?

Out of all the incredible aspects of being a Genetics major, I enjoyed the collaboration of the students with the faculty. Whether it was outside of class, in the Association of  Undergraduate Geneticists’ Fall Eat and Greet, or during class/research, the faculty is constantly open to questions, feedback, and general student thoughts. During my entire undergraduate genetics experience, I felt supported and motivated by faculty and peers to continue learning, to engage in science, and to explore more curiosities!

What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

Currently, I am working as a laboratory technician in the Gordon lab, and attempting to finish up a project that I began in my undergrad. Using R-programming, I classify disease harboring simulated trios (mother, father, affected child) into linked and unlinked groups using the TDT-HET statistic. I then calculate the statistical power of my classification methods as compared to the gold-standard classification as retrieved from the simulations. This position has taught me a lot about independence and patience, because things break, and they take time to fix (see: debugging). Overall, though, I enjoy the amount of trust that my PI puts into my work and the great wealth of skills, life lessons, and academic experience I have absorbed from the position.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

My first job after Rutgers was as a laboratory technician, and I am still doing that while applying for PhD programs in Computational Genetics.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

During my studies, I understood the difficulty of studying abroad as a science major. However, I somehow made it work and it completely enhanced my scientific curiosity and I brought that back with me to Rutgers. I chose to intern in Australia for a summer term and I got the special opportunity to research snail evolution at the Australian Museum in Sydney. When I returned to Rutgers from the internship, I continued research in genetics but with new lenses—computational ones. I believe that my internship paired with the courses I took under the Computational Genetics certificate program shaped me into the training scientist that I am today. If I had to pinpoint one transformative course (that I highly recommend) it would be the Genetics of Big Data course.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

Get into research early! An early exposure to research is extremely advantageous. For all major, my biggest piece of advice is to go to seminars. I did not start attending seminars until the spring of my junior year and I definitely regret it. Seminars are a great way to learn something outside the classroom and remain engaged in current events and research. This is
also an interesting outlet to meet new people, explore new topics (by attending seminars outside your immediate major), and inspire new questions.

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Davila 1Melanie Davila

Major: Genetics 
Minor: Public Health

Graduation Year: 2013


How did you decide on your major?

I chose Genetics as my major because I was fascinated by the little bit of genetics that we learned in General Biology. In addition, I was curious about how our genes impact our health.

What did you like most about it?

I liked that the major offered unique electives and research opportunities. It wasn’t uncommon for professors to bring up current events and research findings during class; that made the learning material more relevant and interesting.

Davila 2What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I currently work at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where my title is Associate Computational Scientist. In this role, I do software engineering work with a heavy data component.

I enjoy the variety of projects I get to work on. Thus far, I’ve worked on projects spanning diseases such as Zika Virus, Chikungunya Virus, and Lung Cancer as well as different assays like mass cytometry, single-cell RNA-seq, and CITE-seq.

I’m also excited by the meaningful nature of the work. The data processing pipelines that I build, provide researchers and clinicians with the information they need to make the most informed decisions possible which in turn, affects the lives of patients.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

My first job after Rutgers was a volunteer gig in rural Brazil where amongst several duties I served as a STEM educator for at-risk and orphaned youth. I was able to leverage my education in genetics, experience tutoring, and skills I developed while teaching a FIGS seminar to get the role.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

Following my volunteer stint in Brazil, I worked at RUCDR Infinite Biologics on-campus. After several months, I transitioned to a clinical research role at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where I contributed to pediatric oncology research.

Throughout these experiences, I was frustrated by how clunky and outdated software in the biotech and healthcare industries tends to be and began to learn how to code. After realizing how much I enjoyed coding, I attended an intensive coding program and then transitioned to my current role. It’s certainly not the career path I had in mind when choosing my major, but I’m very happy with how things turned out. I literally get paid to solve puzzles.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

The knowledge I gained through Genetic Analysis and other foundational courses has been useful throughout my career.In my current role, I often need to expand upon that foundation when building new data pipelines or troubleshooting issues.

In addition, the hands-on research required by the Genetics major provided me with a chance to hone my critical thinking skills and familiarize myself with more than just pipetting. As an outsider, it’s easy to overlook everything that goes into research: grant writing, meticulous lab notes, etc. Having been in a research environment as an undergrad helps me work more effectively in my current role where I am in a very similar environment.

Serving as a tutor and FIGS instructor were also helpful. By teaching, I was able to not only “pay it forward”, but also develop communication skills that allow me to collaborate well in the context of a multidisciplinary team.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

Take advantage of opportunities that take you outside of your comfort zone. This might mean enrolling in a class you’re interested in, but are intimidated by or signing up for a volunteer opportunity that will require you to learn a new set of skills. You never know where it might take you.

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