Tackling Real-World Issues with Biotechnology Research
Sydney Purcell grew up as a Caribbean American and a military child, with parents from Trinidad and Tobago. Her background exposed her to a diverse blend of cultures, shaping her love for both travel and science. Ultimately, her high school classes sparked her initial interest in biology. “I took AP biology and human anatomy during high school and gained a deeper understanding of the fundamental components that support life. Learning about The Human Genome Project opened my eyes to the incredible diversity and similarity among humans. I was captivated by the complexity of the human body and excelled in my studies as a result.” As Sydney navigated the college application process, she came across an RIT bumper sticker that piqued her curiosity about the university. She was drawn to RIT's emphasis on practical experience through co-ops, internships, and hands-on learning opportunities for students. While she was initially interested in enrolling in biology, she discovered biotechnology during the application process. She was intrigued by the possibilities of merging biology and technology to address biological challenges. The innovative nature of this program motivated her to pursue a degree in biotechnology and molecular sciences instead.
Today, as a second-year RIT student, Sydney is conducting research in Dr. Maureen Ferran's Viral Genetics Lab. She is currently involved in two projects: Targeted Molecular Fluorescent Imaging of Breast Cancer Cells and Viral-Vector Mediated Gene Activation in Caenorhabditis Elegans. Within the lab, Sydney takes on a diverse range of responsibilities, including maintaining cell lines, designing experiments, analyzing data, and resolving issues related to experimental parameters.
“From the start, I recognized that a hands-on approach was the most effective way for me to learn. Research is truly fascinating as it not only involves practical work but also constantly challenges my understanding of biology. At RIT, there is a research opportunity for everyone. As a freshman, I initially had concerns about my qualifications. However, my determination to become qualified was noticed by Dr. Ferran, who has since taken me under her guidance. If you possess a strong passion for learning and conducting research, there is a professor at RIT who will guide and mentor you.”
Sydney also collaborated with Dr. Ferran on submitting an application for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) diversity supplement, which is an addition to the main grant titled, "Viral Vector-Mediated Gene Activation to Facilitate Large-Scale Genetic Analysis in Caenorhabditis Elegans.” Sydney described the funded project as an amazing opportunity for her. "This funded project gives me the chance to interact with faculty and students from a different institution, and also attend a virology conference where I can learn from top researchers in the field.”
Aside from her academic studies, Sydney plays an active role on campus as a co-facilitator of 'Real Talk', a club that provides a safe space for Black and Brown students to share their thoughts on current events, emotions, and college experiences. She is also the vice president of the College of Science ALANA club, which aims to promote networking opportunities and advancement in science-related fields for underrepresented students. Additionally, as an avid traveler, Sydney is an RIT Global Ambassador who collaborates with the study abroad office to introduce study abroad programs to students from diverse backgrounds.
Sydney offered some guidance to high school students in their search for the perfect college. “Seek out institutions that align with your personal values and interests and feel like an extension of yourself. Avoid selecting a school where you have to change who you are in order to fit in. Instead, opt for a college that will facilitate a smooth and fulfilling transition into this new phase of your life.”