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Student Profiles

Cara Brand

Cara Brand

Name: Cara Brand
Hometown: Fair Lawn, NJ
Graduation Year: 2016
Program: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Degree: PhD


Why did you choose the University of Rochester for your graduate program?

The University of Rochester is a leader in evolutionary genetics. The biology department is small, but has many well-known faculty members. As a result, you get multiple mentors to help guide you through your dissertation work.

What is your research experience/project?

I study the evolutionary genetics of meiosis using the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. Specifically, I study the evolution of recombination, the exchange of genetic material during meiosis.

Additionally, I study the selfish genetic system Segregation Distorter, which biases chromosomal segregation during meiosis so it is passed to a majority of offspring.

What is your experience with research opportunities at Rochester?

My entire program is research-based, so I actually take very few classes.

What is your favorite part about life on campus?

I enjoying running, and the University’s proximity to the Genesee River Trailway is nice. After work I can just step outside and go running along the Genesee River.

What is your experience living in Rochester?

I’ve always enjoyed the restaurants and nightlife Rochester has to offer. There are many farm-to-table restaurants and specialty cocktail bars and microbreweries. The quality of these restaurants is often on par with those in big cities, except way cheaper!

Who is your favorite faculty member, and why?

John Jaenike in the biology department is my favorite faculty member. John is knowledgeable about a wide variety of science, so you can talk to him about anything! I always enjoy hearing his perspective on science as well as the many experiences he’s collected over the course of his successful career.

Anything else you want a prospective student to know about Rochester?

Rochester may have tough winters, but we have wonderful summers filled with festivals every weekend. It definitely makes up for the cold months!

What are your tentative plans after graduation?

I plan on pursing a post-doctoral position at an academic institution. This type of position will allow me to broaden my skillset and prepare me to either run my own lab as a tenure track researcher, or help me transition into a field in industry, like drug development.

What is your experience with professional development opportunities at Rochester?  

Conferences are a great way to meet people in your field and hear about the work going on in other labs. Sometimes going to these conferences is tough because of traveling expenses. However, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) at Rochester is pretty generous with travel awards, which help pay for conference fees.

This year I received a travel award from the GSA, and it made going to the Evolution Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, a lot easier financially.

Can you tell us about your experience as a woman in a PhD program in the sciences?

There are very few women in the sciences, which is sometimes a struggle. I’m excited because the biology department just hired the first two women faculty members in the ecology and evolution program within the past year: Jenn Brisson and Amanda Larracuente. I think they will be great mentors for the female graduate students in my program because they can provide a different perspective on a career in science.

Additionally, I attend the Graduate Women in Science (GWIS) meetings, which bring in outside speakers who share their life experiences. The speakers are women in science who come from a wide range of science professions such as faculty members, journalists, and government agencies.