Unique Electives Paving the Path to Vanderbilt
It all started with an elective. As a Biotechnology & Molecular Bioscience student, Grace Morales ’18 was able to take Interdisciplinary Biology & Chemistry and Intro to Bioinformatics as electives. This exposure to courses not usually offered in undergraduate programs sparked an interest in the space where scientific disciplines overlap and intersect. Now, Grace is a Ph.D. student in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP) in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
Today Grace focuses on infectious disease and bacterial genomics, specifically researching E. coli that cause urinary tract infections. She splits her time between "wet" lab work at the bench and dry lab or computational work. This is a direct result of her exposure to bioinformatics at RIT. She was able to test drive bioinformatics, discovered she liked programming, and then sought a graduate program that would support her work both at the bench and computationally.
When COVID hit and Grace was forced to work from home, she was very thankful for her skills in this field. In her research on E. coli, Grace works with thousands of patient samples and can sequence, process, and analyze data in high throughput, which is very important. She will continue her bioinformatics work at Pfizer through an internship in fall 2021. Grace believes that having access to an introductory bioinformatics course put her on the trajectory to where she is today.
In addition to electives, Grace credits the support of multiple faculty members at RIT with her present-day success. She worked in Dr. André Hudson’s research lab for two years and took classes with Dr. Jeff Mills and Dr. Dina Newman. They all provided ongoing advice throughout her career at RIT that was very useful in helping her figure out a career path. Grace also received support from these faculty while she was navigating the graduate school application process.
Looking back on her RIT experience, Grace is grateful for the technical training she received. She had more experience in the technical aspects and was one of the few with bioinformatics experience, which set her up well for her current role. In addition, Grace learned a lot from her summer internships working in biodefense at Battelle. Those industry experiences opened her eyes to the rigor of scientific research, something she now does every day.
About RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences
RIT is the place where biology meets technology. From the start, our students work in the lab, build skills in the field, and gain real-world experience that sets them apart from their peers after graduation. Our faculty focus on the students and involve them in their research. Biology at other schools may be considered traditional, but at RIT it’s anything but. Explore the organic universe from DNA to global systems in a supportive academic environment at the Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences.
RIT biotechnology students have many opportunities to gain hands-on experience in industry, academia, or research settings prior to graduation. With extensive research and technology training, our students are competitive applicants for co-op positions. Recent biotechnology students have completed co-ops at Cornell University, Johnson & Johnson, and Vaccinex Inc., some landing paid employment with the same organizations after graduation.