Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Rebecca Kanter

image1_1Name: Rebecca Kanter ’05
Major while at UR: Biochemistry and Health & Society
Occupation: Researcher at the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP)
Education (UR and additional): B.S. Biochemistry, B.A. Health & Society, Take 5 in “Understanding Latin American Culture, Identity, and Values;” PhD in International Health & Human Nutrition
Current city/country of residence: Guatemala City/Guatemala
Community activities: Media officer (volunteer) for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF)


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

So many reasons. But learning that University of Rochester’s motto was MELIORA sealed the deal for me to apply early decision.

When and how did you choose your major?

I entered UR interested in bioethics, but because I knew that wasn’t available I settled on Biochemistry. My sophomore year I took Professor Brown’s classic HLS 116 (then Introduction to Community Medicine). After instantly learning about socioeconomic disparities in health, I knew I wanted to major in Health & Society. And soon after that, I knew I also wanted to continue with Biochemistry because it is the basis of human nutrition.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

As a student, I was involved with Varsity Field Hockey, Club Ice Hockey, and UR Cinema Group. My passion is field hockey and it continued to give tremendous balance to my life—especially while doing a double degree (B.S. Biochemistry & B.A. Health & Society) at UR. There is nothing like having fun playing your favorite sport outside, on a beautiful surface, in beautiful crisp fall weather or night-time flurries. The early morning practices were physically tough but were life lessons. Trekking to the ice rink shin-deep snow in the early morning was also priceless. All activities provided me with an eclectic group of friends and awesome teammates.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Hands-down the critical thinking skills I took away from UR have been most useful to me since graduation. To have been constantly surrounded by peers, professors, and friends with intangible critical thinking skills (and ways of teaching these skills) was a true privilege.  Soon after graduation, I entered into a PhD program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was here that I realized that the critical thinking skills I gained from nearly all my classes at UR was such a privilege and of essential use in public health.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

Right now, I work as a (public health nutrition) researcher in Guatemala City at the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP)—whose founding director was coincidentally a UR Medical School Alum, Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw. Why did I choose this career? I told you its founding director was a UR Medical School Alum, right…?. But seriously, since taking HLS 116, I more or less knew I wanted to do public health nutrition research in Latin America.

What advice do you have for current students?

Follow your heart, try not to stress about the future (whether it is tomorrow or two years from now or decades from now), and always remember: MELIORA.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Hilary Leeds

 

leedsName: Hilary Leeds

Occupation: Program Analyst, National Institutes of Health

Education (UR and additional): BS (Biochemistry), University of Rochester, 2000; JD, Case Western Reserve; University of Chicago, Clinical Medical Ethics Fellowship

Current city/state of residence: Maryland

Community activities: Various volunteer projects, like working with people with disabilities, rescuing animals, etc.

 


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I chose to attend the University of Rochester because it was the right fit for me.  The size of the school, variety of courses, and its reputation all played a role, as did the opportunity to attend concerts at Eastman.

When and how did you choose your major?

I grew up in a small town where the only high school biology course at the time was freshman biology.  I left high school wanting to learn more about it, so I decided to pursue biochemistry.  I had many courses to choose from (many graduate-level) to fulfill the major.  I studied not only biochemistry, but also immunology, nuclear cell biology, and molecular biology.  I chose my major because I wanted to learn about biology – at the time I did not know what career path I wanted to take.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved in many activities.  With Hillel I participated in social activities and an after-school tutoring/mentoring program with local grade-schoolers.  I was also on the Outside Speakers Committee, which chose and hosted famous speakers.  As a part of that group, I met Michael Dukakis, James Earl Jones, and Ian Wilmut (who cloned Dolly the sheep), to name a few.  I also served as a peppy D’Lion my sophomore year and an RA my junior and senior years.

What did you do immediately after graduation?  How did you decide to take that path?

Right after graduation, I went to law school.  I’d known for some time that I was interested in bioethics and the intersection of science, law, ethics, and policy.  I sought out a mentor bioethicist at Strong and was advised about possible career paths.  Law school seemed a good fit for me, and I chose a law school with a robust bioethics and health law curriculum.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I work at the National Institutes of Health, in the policy office of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  I feel very lucky that I found a job and a career path that combine my backgrounds in science, law, and bioethics.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

To me, the most important thing my education at the U of R did for me was to teach me to think differently.  As I look back, it’s not so much about whether I remember the purpose of a particular enzyme or the specifics of a certain signaling pathway.  Rather, what my education did was give me the tools to understand how to analyze or approach a problem, scientific concept, or journal article.  This has been particularly useful in one of my tasks at work, which is to “translate” important scientific advances for the lay public. 

Where would you like to be in five years?

I would like to remain in the government, continuing to progress and participate in a variety of stimulating projects.

How are you still connected with the University?

I made many friends at the U of R and continue to see and talk to many on a regular basis.  I’ve even met alumni I didn’t know while in school at Washington, DC area alumni events and through mutual friends.  I always feel connected to U of R alumni.  I also attended my ten year reunion in 2010 and reconnected with some old friends.  I also make yearly congratulatory calls to admitted students.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice to current students would be to take this time to cultivate lifelong friendships, try to study something because it interests you and not because it is a means to an end, stay connected with the University after graduation, and explore the great things to do and see in Rochester.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Ben Stevens

Name: Ben Stevens
Age: 33
Occupation: Principal Research Scientist, Pfizer
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Biochemistry, and M.S. in Chemistry, University of Rochester, 2001; PhD in Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh; MPH, Johns Hopkins University
Current city/state of residence: Cambridge, MA
Community activities: Fostered cats for the local animal shelter in CT


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

Interestingly, it was an interviewer from ANOTHER university – we were speaking about my interests, which at the time were mainly in the direction of medicine.  He was a medical doctor at a local hospital and ultimately he told me, “Well, if you have any interest in research, of the schools on your list, you should go to U of R.”  Probably one of the best pieces of advice I ever received.

When and how did you choose your major?

Honestly, I fell into it.  I was pre-med, and had to go through organic chemistry as does everybody on that track in their sophomore year.  I was pretty good in general chemistry, but it never really appealed to me that much.  On the other hand, I honestly loved organic chemistry.  It’s an unusual experience since most of the people you’re in class with really hate it and you almost feel obliged to pretend that you feel the same way.  All the time, you’re having fun drawing cyclohexane chairs in secret… not really, just kidding… sort of…

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was a TA for general chemistry and organic chemistry.  That was a great experience; I met a lot of really good people and felt like I had a role, albeit limited, in helping them along with their career and life aspirations.  I was also a student aid, which was always an interesting experience, although it’s pretty amazing how hard it can be to stay awake when you’re alone in some of the buildings on campus at night.

Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?

Probably the most important were Professor Andy Kende and Professor Michael Calter, who is unfortunately not at U of R any longer.  I applied to an NCUR-REU program for summer research and Professor Kende amazingly recognized me from my exams in his organic class (I literally had never spoken to him before).  It still astounds me that out of 200+ exams that he could tell that a student had an interest in the subject – I certainly didn’t know for sure!  He asked me to do summer research in his lab and I accepted.  I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be doing what I am today without that opportunity.  I worked with a fantastic, patient post-doc named Catherine Mineur and, along with Professor Kende, she taught me pretty much everything I needed to know as a beginning organic chemist.  Prof. Calter supported me as a fifth-year master’s student in his lab and basically gave me the direction and confidence to enter graduate school as a doctoral candidate.  We still keep in touch to this day and I am still close with a number of his graduate students.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I’m a medicinal chemist at Pfizer.  I spent a few years at Merck doing similar work as well.  We carry out drug discovery in a number of therapeutic areas, although I work in diabetes and cardiovascular diseases specifically.  I’ve worked on a few projects that are currently at various stages in clinical trials, hopefully on their way to becoming drugs for people who need them.  I love what I do – it’s on one hand frustrating, stressful, and oftentimes unappreciated, but also personally and intellectually satisfying and it has a very real impact on global health.

What advice do you have for current students?

Talk to your professors.  I didn’t do enough of this, but they are a huge resource and they have invaluable insights into the fields you may be interested in.  If you even have the slightest interest in science, do undergraduate research.  As much as the lab courses try to teach basic skills, they really give very limited insight into what a real up-to-date lab operates like (for example, I HATED undergrad organic chemistry lab but I love doing organic chemistry).  Try to enjoy your classes – believe it or not, there will come a day that you will miss having the opportunity to sit and listen to experts in various fields who are there just to teach you.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Anjali Chandra

Name: Anjali Chandra
Age: 24
Occupation: Teacher and College Adviser
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Biochemistry and B.A. in Health and Society, University of Rochester, 2009; M.S. in Special Education, CUNY Hunter, 2011; This fall I will be joining the MD class of 2016 at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Current city/state of residence: New York, NY
Community activities: Volunteer in children’s center


Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?

My freshman biology professor was always very open and supportive to our class. He was always willing to help with getting us to understand the material or just reassure us while we were getting used to college. As I became older, he continued to check up on me and was always willing to listen and give advice. Three years later, I still keep in contact with him, and I know I owe a lot of my success to his support over the years.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

During my senior year at Rochester, I realized I wanted the opportunity to actually see the ideas and theories in practice. I felt like my Rochester education charged me with the knowledge and had sparked my interest in working in urban areas, and I wanted to explore this area full time before continuing my education. I decided to apply to Teach for America (TFA), along with other Americorp programs and decided to join TFA. My experience as a Rochester student really prepared me for this experience. The workshop program put me ahead of my fellow corp members in working with students in an effective way.

What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I am currently finishing my third year at my TFA placement school. Last year, I co-created a college cafe program so that my students would have the opportunity and support to continue education after high school. Staying a third year allows me to ensure that the program continues at my school. Looking forward, I am attending medical school this fall so that I may study medicine and return to the same community to treat and provide positive support to children in underserved areas.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Both the content knowledge and perspective I gained at Rochester have been useful. Most of all my experiences in extracurricular activities have allowed me to transition to the community with ease. I think the manner in which students are encouraged to explore and ask questions has allowed me to be a truly effective teacher and advocate for my students. Going forward I know Rochester also prepared me as a student for medical school.

How are you still connected with the University?

I still maintain contact with my friends, students, and professors at the university that I worked with through organizations and courses. I often attend the alumni events held in my city, and I also maintain close contact with my mentors that I met while studying at the UR.

What advice do you have for current students?

Never say never. Study what you want. This is the time to explore and embrace being a student.


Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Robin Williamson

Name: Robin Williamson
Age:: 35
Occupation:: Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Biochemistry, University of Rochester, 1998; Ph.D. in Genetics, Harvard University, 2005
Current city/state of residence: Rockville, MD


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I had personal, educational, and economical reasons for deciding to attend UR. I lived just 12 miles from the school and was familiar with the campus because my dad was an alumnus who had frequently taken me with him to use the UR athletic facilities when I was growing up. This meant that I wouldn’t be too far from the family with whom I was very close. In addition, I intended to pursue a major that was related to biology, and UR had an excellent reputation for achievements in the biological sciences. Finally, as a Rochester resident, I received not only a merit-based scholarship from the school, but also an additional scholarship because I was a local student.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation, I attended graduate school at Harvard University. As a biochemistry major with a minor in chemistry, I had spent a great deal of my time at UR in a laboratory. During the summer before my Junior year, I started doing independent research in a bio-organic laboratory. This sparked my interest in basic research and led me to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences. I specialized in genetics and received my PhD in the spring of 2005.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

Now I am an associate at the consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton. After receiving my PhD in 2005, I spent six years as the Deputy Editor of the American Journal of Human Genetics. During that time, I developed a lot of connections throughout the genetics community and acquired many skills associated with project management and science publishing. When it came time to leave the journal, I was interested in a position where I would be involved in the development of scientific content while also gaining additional management experience. A position at a consultant firm is a great way to gain experience working on a variety of projects for different clients.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

During graduate school, my position as an editor at a scientific journal, and my current position at a consulting firm, I am constantly using my ability to think in an analytic manner. During the classes I took while pursuing my biochemistry major, I had acquired the tools and skills I needed to be able to digest information in a critical fashion and to use that information to achieve my goals.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

This is something I have struggled with because there is, of course, always more work to be done. Working in the consultant world has actually helped a great deal because we have to bill the client for the hours we work, and a work week of 40 hours is expected. Since starting this job, I have committed to working eight hours a day and making sure I have plans with family and friends that will force me to stick with that commitment. I am also an avid runner, so no matter how long I work, I set aside time each day to run and go to the gym. I’ve found that devoting this time to focus only on me is very important for my well-being.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice would be to take the time to really think about what you enjoy doing. We are all very busy with schedules filled with activities that we can add to our resumes, but which of those are you really excited and passionate about? It takes time and energy to stop the forward momentum to consider what makes you happy. It has become the norm to be constantly involved in as many things as possible, and my advice would be to take the time to devote yourself to those goals and missions that really resonate within you.