Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Becky Fallon
Occupation: Graduate Student/ Graduate Fellow
Education (UR and additional): BS in Brain and Cognitive Sciences (UR), pursuing PhD in Cellular, Molecular, Developmental Biology and Biophysics (Johns Hopkins University and National Institutes of Health)
Current city/state/country of residence: Baltimore, Maryland
Current Community activities: Diversity mentoring and scientific teaching in Baltimore City schools through a Hopkins outreach group
Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?
I was won over by the beauty of the campus and strong focus on learning and education. My first thought walking on the campus was “it smells smart”. I also liked that I could continue with non academic interests I had such as swimming on the varsity team and music. UR was like an enhanced experience for things I already loved doing. My high school life elevated.
When and how did you choose your major(s)?
I chose my major my freshman year. I originally wanted to be a Biology major when I applied to colleges but perusing through the course catalogs I saw the Brain and Cognitive Sciences courses and wanted to take all of them. I took both Biology and BCS courses my first semester and it was clear BCS was a major designed for me and my interests. It was the beauty of UR that I could avoid taking classes I didn’t want to (like organic chemistry.. eeks) and focus on things that really captivated me like the mind/brain connection.
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
I was a varsity athlete on the swim team while I studied at UR. I also was a member of Greek life. Both obligations kept me busy, focused and productive. Being involved with these organizations helped me to better plan my time, and also forced me to balance academics with a social life. Somehow in all this I was able to study abroad for a semester too, which was a rich experience that I would do all over again if I could.
Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?
I worked in a lab at the medical school with Dr. Troy Zarcone. He has since left the U of R, but we have met up and conferences for lunch and chatting, and he has been gracious in writing me several recommendation letters over the years.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take this path?
I serendipitously was able to get a job as a laboratory research assistant at a great university in South Carolina where my parents were moving. I didn’t even know what the job was really when I applied—I thought I would be cleaning animal poop, I was just mass applying to anything I could find. It ended up being a great job steering my career path significantly.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
I am a graduate student in a partnership program between the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Johns Hopkins University. I always thought I wanted a PhD, but my work after college solidified that it was the right path for me. I love research and being the first to find an answer to big questions. It is just the right fit.
What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?
I learned a lot about the brain which has been useful since I now focus on neuroscience and the neurobiology of addiction. More importantly I had the opportunity to do a clinical internship and basic scientific research while at the UR, which informed me that I preferred basic science. The advanced lab on neuroscience that is offered to BCS students was really great for building my skill set to find a job in a lab after graduation as well. I still use several of those same techniques today in my research.
Where would you like to be in five years?
I hope in 5 years I have graduated from my PhD with a nice set of publications and either have a great post-doctoroal fellowship or job using my critical thinking skills. I hope the location is really cool too, like London, or San Francisco, or Barcelona….
How you are still connected with the University?
I feel a lot of pride coming from the UR . I think that those who know its reputation are always impressed with my degree. I have dozens of life long friends I keep in touch with, and thousands of fond memories that I enjoy replaying in my mind. I like reading updates in alumni news letters and from the swim team, but I haven’t had a chance to come back since graduation. Maybe this year…
What advice do you have for current students?
I advise current students to make strong connections with professors. I wish I had been less intimidated by the professors and made personal connections while I was at the UR. Once you know your major try to pick an adviser and meet with him/her often to discuss your goals and progress. I think the research opportunities were critical to my career selection, and recommend trying to do internships in your field. My biggest advice though is to maintain a balanced life. Make sure to laugh and make mistakes and learn from them. College is a unique time and my fondest memories are of my friends and connections I made rather than specific classes or grades.