Senior honors thesis breaks barriers

“Family, Professors, and society are pressuring you to do well [in college], whatever that means, but from ages 18 to 22, you’re also developing tremendously; the brain doesn’t stop developing our behavior until age 25. This is a very crucial part of our lives, but no one talks about it.”

Marz Saffore ’15 sought to rethink convention and challenge the status quo with her senior honors thesis show, “Erasing Hierarchies.” Saffore said, “I wanted to create a space where people felt they could talk about [differences], but not feel like they were alone in talking about it… I created a project where everyone was talking about it.” As one of the subjects of the film, attending the premier certainly prompted me to reconsider many of the ideas I previously had about the way I interact with others. Based on the reactions of those in the audience, this reaction was widely shared. Overall, “Erasing Hierarchies” was a keen-eyed tour de force; a window into what deeply unites humanity in spite of our external differences.

According to Saffore, seeing last year’s honors senior thesis show, by Lauren Blair ’13/T5, inspired her to undertake one of her own. Blair revived the program’s honors track, which involves taking three extra classes in the Art and Art History Department, and writing a 15-page paper, in addition to the honors thesis exhibition. Saffore decided the summer after she saw Blair’s show to switch onto the honors track. “In the summertime, I emailed my adviser,” Saffore recalled, “I told her, ‘I want to switch over, right now!’ Then I did, and as of right now, the honors program is officially revived; there’s someone else in the Class of 2016 who’s doing it.”

Saffore had some experience in digital media production from her work on a similar film chronicling her experience with Art New York, as well as from coursework.  During her semester in New York City, she honed her interview style, and learned to use b-roll, or stock footage. Assigned to make a podcast about her experience, she decided to include a visual element, and produced a short documentary about how four students “all come together and actually have a cool, meaningful semester, besides the whole surface level thing.” Returning to Rochester last fall, she wanted to use the same skills to show how students at the U of R are all striving for fulfillment of the same basic needs. A psychology minor, Saffore recalled Maslow’s hierarchy as a useful framework for organizing her film.

“Erasing Hierarchies” consisted of clips from 53 interviews with undergraduates from various walks of life.  These clips were edited together and displayed on a three-panel screen. Saffore consciously sought to maintain thematic unity, yet juxtaposed interview clips from students representing different positions within the same societal hierarchies. Another important guiding principle was to stay true each students’ experiences by accurately portraying their genuine emotions. Structurally, the film was organized into eight segments; each centered around one representative student, with smaller segments interspersed. This style created an attitude that all the film’s subjects were more similar than different, and many were going through the same fundamental struggles, whether they realized it or not. According to Saffore, it was difficult to edit out 99% of each of her 50+ 45-60 minute interviews, to a final length of 30 minutes, but the results truly speak for themselves.

The premier was followed by a Q & A session with the artist and a reception at the Sage Art Center featuring two performance art pieces. The first was an opportunity for the subjects of the documentary and audience members to interview Marz, asking her insightful, revealing personal questions which were all caught on camera, just like the interviews featured in the film. The second was a dance party. This reporter truly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend a trip to Sage Art Center to see an exhibit including the film, and various production notes and full interviews.

What Clubs Are You In? Campus Clubs Galore

With over 250 different student organizations to choose from, it’s no wonder that UR undergrads are always so busy!  The many opportunities offered by the various clubs and sports provide the campus population an outlet to share their interests and channel their passions. Listed below are some examples of the diverse and involved undergrads that embody the quintessentially Rochester student body.


Name: Alyssa Wolf
Major: Epidemiology
Class Year: 2015
“I’m in Blue Crew. Blue Crew is a school sports spirit organization. We go to sporting events, and we cheer a lot and scream.  We go to games for basketball, football, soccer, field hockey, and cross country.

Name: Nicholas Scacchetti
Major: Chemical Engineering
Class Year: 2015
“I’m with the American Institute of Chemical Engineering here on campus. Right now, I’m heading up the ChemE car competition, where we build a small car to run in a competition that runs off a chemical reaction. We’re going to be building a hydrogen fuel cell car. We have all the parts and we’re putting it together right now.”

Name: Will Burns
Major: Business
Class Year: 2015
“I Rock Climb. I got into it when I was younger, and I wanted to continue it into college.”

Colleges against Cancer

Name: Julia Weisman
Major: Psychology and Business
Class Year: 2018
“The CAC (Colleges against Cancer) does a lot of advertising about certain types of cancer. Each month is focused on a different disease. We are focusing on lung and pediatric cancer; it was breast cancer month in October. We have lots of different events going on. We have had dinners in Douglass, and we do fun things on campus. We just like to promote awareness of the disease.”


Name: Dan Hoffman
Major: Music
Class Year: 2015
“I’m not in a club because I spend so much time dancing. That in itself is almost like an extracurricular thing, and I’m always choreographing and working with dancers in other classes. I just don’t have time for clubs.”

Name: Horacio Quezada
Major: Undeclared
Class Year: 2018
“I’m in a couple of them. One is called Salsita, which is part of a major organization called SALSA. It’s a leadership club, we learn about leadership positions. I’m also in Newman, which is the Catholic community here on campus. In Salsita, I’m the business manager.”


Name: Orkhan Abdullayev
Major: Chemical Engineering
Class Year: 2016 (Grad Student)
Club: BPG is the Ballet Performance Group, it is a club that is dedicated to preserving classical technique on campus, as well as allowing students to choreograph their own pieces in a variety of styles such as contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, and tap.

Name: Carola Figueroa
Major: Biology
Class Year: 2016
Club: Yes, I’m in Alpha Phi Omega, it’s a community service fraternity. I’m also in the Society of Undergraduate Biology Students. I joined APO because I love service.

Name: Evan Mclaughlin
Major: Computer Science
Class Year: 2016
“I’m in Chi Phi fraternity. I was the secretary last year which was fun. I did all the paper pushing in the background.”

Track & Field

Name: Bobbi Spiegel
Major: Health, Behavior, and Society
Class Year: 2017
“I’m on the varsity track team, and I’m on grass roots. I’m also involved in Jewish life, like Chabad and Hillel. For track, we have practice six days a week, because the NCAA mandates that we have one day off. Once we hit January 1st, we have a meet every weekend until the end of school. We actually stay past the end of school, because our meets go into late May/ early June. It’s a big dedication, since we also have weight room time. My main event is long jump. I also sprint and do triple jump.”

Name: Alex Samuelson
Major: Neuroscience and Political Science
Class Year: 2017
“I’m in Delta Gamma, one of the sororities here on campus.  What we’re doing right now is supporting our philanthropy, which is Service for Sight, which supports blinded veterans who have been wounded, and also their families. We’re selling bracelets for the blinded veterans’ association, and later, we’re going to have an event, this coming Saturday, where we wrap gifts for the families of soldiers who are currently deployed.

mariachiName: Marcia Des Jardin
Major: Molecular Genetics
Class Year: 2015, 2016T5
“UR Mariachi is really cool group of people. I don’t speak Spanish at all, but I sing in Spanish. It’s a lot of fun to get out of your comfort zone, and get to know people you wouldn’t necessarily know before. You can play violin, guitar, bass, trumpet, flute, accordion – whatever you want, just come to our rehearsals on Wednesday at 4:30.”

Name: Molly Goldstein
Major: Music, BCS
Class Year: 2017
“This past weekend, the Frisbee team actually went to Montreal, and we had a tournament there. We did pretty well. We won a few games and had a lot of fun. It was a very rewarding experience with the team. It’s a nice balance between being very serious about our playing, but also having a good time on the field as well.”

Name: Hadley Brown
Major: English Language/Media Communications, Psychology
Class Year: 2015
“For U of R’s Alpha Phi organization, I’m actually the parental and alumni affairs coordinator, so I work a lot with outreach to the outside community, trying to bring them back to the school, get some school spirit, and to introduce the girls to some people they can network with after college.”

Name: Milagros Garcia
Major: Psychology, English language/Media Communications
Class Year: 2017
SALSA, the Spanish & Latino Students Association, is basically a community, you don’t have to be Hispanic of any type to join, basically, we just discuss issues that affect the Latin-American community as well as try to make ourselves known that we’re a part of campus.


Name: Liza Gerwig
Major: BCS
Class Year: 2016
Sihir is the belly dancing group, and it’s really fun.  There’s a lot of cool, wacky people, and we do cool, fancy things, and put on nice shows.”

Name: Shelby Corning
Major: Environmental Science
Class Year: 2017
“I’m on the varsity Softball team. We went to nationals last spring for the first time in school history, which was really cool. It was a big step for the program. I’m a left fielder.”

Name: Rachel Milner
Major: Biology
Class Year: 2015
“The Strong Jugglers were formed in 1995, and we started off as a bunch of kids who went over to Strong Memorial Hospital to juggle for the patients. It’s evolved into a fine circus and performing arts organization. We like to perform on and off-campus. It’s very casual: anyone can join!”

Name: Duncan Graham
Major: Economics
Class Year: 2015
Mock Trial is a club that does what the name implies, we put on trials. There are attorneys, there are witnesses, and we compete with schools across the east coast and the south. We’re even thinking of going to California. We compete, we have attorneys, witnesses, and it’s a whole lot of fun.”

ArcheryName: Allison Colarusso
Major: Chemical Engineering
Class Year: 2016
Archery right now: we shoot arrows… at targets.”

Name: Paul Gabrys
Major: Chemical Engineering
Class Year: 2014, 2015T5
Newman Community is where people who identify as Catholic want come together to grow as a community.”


How One Student Group is Changing the Conversation

Stigma and taboo. These are just two things that keep individuals suffering from mental illness from getting help.  “Active Minds” helps promotes mental health awareness, education, and advocacy on college campuses.

The U of R’s chapter of Active Minds hosts a variety of different events ranging from guest speakers to a variety of awareness drives throughout the year in order to encourage a dialogue about mental health between members of the campus community.  Chapter members help to facilitate these conversations as self-proclaimed “stigma fighters,” combating misconceptions and advocating for greater awareness of common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Stephanie Mejia ’15, a psychology major minoring in International Relations, and one of the club’s co-presidents, said one of her favorite events is an annual art exposition, named “HeART of Disorder.”  “We don’t just advocate for stomping out stigma; we show the community what stigma looks and feels like through various art forms,” she said.

“Prevent a Meltdown” was another program held last year that focused particularly on the student population.  Hosting an ice cream social right before finals week, one of the most stressful weeks of the semester, the student organization partnered with University Health Services in order to pair sweet treats with information about stress-reducing mechanisms.

The “Tell It to the Wall” campaign, which began at the end of October, offers the campus population an anonymous outlet to share their secrets and issues to the public.  The wall, displayed on the third floor of Wilson Commons, is composed of anonymously submitted posts, a la Post Secret.  That same week, Active Minds partnered again with UHS at the Sex and Chocolate Health Fair in order to discuss mental and sexual health.

Co-president Hayley Harnicher ’15, a psychology major with minors in mathematics and business, is thankful for the opportunities that Active Minds has provided her, from serving on the national Student Advisory Committee to the organization’s national office in Washington D.C.  Beyond this, however, she is most grateful for the clarity that the group’s mission provides.  “The best thing I have learned is that taking care of your mental health, or seeking help if needed, is not a weakness and should be commended,” she said.

The Rochester community is no stranger to the costs of overlooking mental health.  Last year, Samuel Freeling, an undergraduate student from Georgetown D.C., ended his own life.  Sam’s mother created Project S.A.M., which hosts an annual 5K Fun Run, the Spike Classic, to provide support and advocacy for those suffering from mental illnesses like depression.

Last year, the money raised by the Spike Classic was used to fund a new track at Sam’s high school, Georgetown Day High School.  This year, funds raised by the run and through their website will go to Active Minds.  The group plans to use the donation to bring the “Send Silence Packing” display to campus.

“It is important for our student group to support a cause that has directly impacted our peers and the U of R community,” said Mejia.  “It is up to us to continue the conversation and make the student body, faculty, staff, and administration aware of the cause and how we can make a difference in the future of our campus.”

If you, or someone you know, is struggling, the CARE Network exists to identify students who may be in distress. Simply fill out a CARE report or set up an appointment with University Counseling Services. Students can call 585-275-3113 to make an appointment.

Photo credit: Helga Weber/Flickr

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Laura Osborne

osborneName: Laura Cowan Osborne

Occupation: Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

Education (UR and additional): BA Brain and Cognitive Sciences (double minor in history and psychology) University of Rochester, 2003; MA Early Childhood Special Education George Washington University, 2005; Certificate of Applied Behavior Analysis, George Mason University, 2009

Current city/state/country of residence: Alexandria, VA

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

My parents (and grandfather) both attended UR. When it was time to look at colleges, they encouraged me to look. I loved the fact that I could take lessons at Eastman and take advantage of all of the concerts there. I loved that the curriculum was open and there were no ‘freshman’ classes. I loved the diversity of classes and majors offered. The campus just felt like home from when I first came to visit!

When and how did you choose your major(s)?

I have always been fascinated by the brain and how it works. I enjoy learning about development and what can go wrong. Because I was so interested in psychology when I took my first couple of courses, but I enjoyed the more scientific lean of BCS. I was excited to know more about how the brain works, how that effects everything else, and what that means for a person.

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

I was trying to decide between pursuing a PhD in neuropsychology and becoming a special education teacher. In summers between classes, I worked as an assistant in a special education preschool program and also did work in research in both Alzheimer’s disease and neuropsychology.  I decided to take a position as an assistant in a classroom full time to make sure that I really loved working with children and I had so much fun I pursued my MA in education.

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

I am an early childhood special education teacher. I work with children ages 2-5 that have delays in one more more of the core areas (language, motor skills, social skills, and cognition). I am a non-categorical teacher, so all of my students have different abilities and disabilities. I love that it keeps me on my toes and is continually changing. Seeing my students make progress and helping them to do so means the world to me.

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

Having knowledge about the brain has been very helpful as a special education teacher. A lot of my students have had injuries to the brain (stroke in utero, traumatic head injury), suffer from brain related disorders (epilepsy) or have other anomalies (agenesis of the corpus callosum, cortical blindness).  My background has allowed me to better plan for what a student might need in the classroom.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Wendy Moore

mooreName: Wendy Moore

Occupation: Soon-to-be director of Brooklyn Country Day, a small, private preschool

Education (UR and additional): BA in BCS and Psychology ’05, U of R; PhD in Cognitive Development, Teachers College Columbia University

Current city/state/country of residence: Brooklyn, NY

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

Dr. Charles Duffy over at the medical center had a tremendous influence on my interest in pursuing research beyond graduation. The rigorous process of going through my undergraduate thesis and defense with him made for a pretty easygoing doctoral degree experience.

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

I just graduated from Teachers College and currently take care of my son full-time. Through discovering that I need to also sink my teeth into a professional challenge, I decided to lay out plans to start my own preschool. My BCS background affords me a unique perspective on preschool design and philosophy in ways that other classically trained early childhood preschool teachers don’t necessarily have.

Where would you like to be in five years?

Laying out plans to start a charter preschool for low-income children.

What is your fondest memory of the University?

My freshman year, I was nervously approached by a hallmate to go to the masquerade ball on a first date. Who would have ever thought we’d move to Brooklyn together one day? Been married 5 years- our son just turned one.

What advice do you have for current students?

Take time to do some big dreaming. If you think research might interest you, get involved in a research track- sink your teeth into a big project! And take a class or two totally outside the box what you typically think you’d find interesting.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Sarah Lazer-Gomez

lazerName: Sarah Lazer-Gomez

Occupation: Psychologist, New York City Police Department

Education (UR and additional): Undergraduate – University of Rochester (’07): Major, Brain & Cognitive Science, Minor; Psychology and American Sign Language
Graduate School – Long Island University, C.W. Post; Clinical Psychology, Psy.D.

Current city/state/country of residence: New York, NY

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I chose to attend the University of Rochester because it had the feel of a smaller campus with a close-knit community. I also liked the idea of having to take clusters in various academic areas rather than having specific course requirements.

When and how did you choose your major(s)?

I chose my major after my first semester. I took the introductory Brain and Cognitive Science class and really enjoyed it, so I decided to make it my major. I originally thought I might want to be a biology major, but I realized that BCS combined two of my interests; psychology and biology. 

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

After graduation, I spent the summer living in Rochester. In September, I went to graduate school to get my Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology. This was not an easy decision, but after attending a career fair at U of R I realized that I was always leaning toward a career in social service. I had done research in a Neuroscience lab at the University of Rochester, and while it was fascinating work, I did not think that being a researcher was the right career for me. I was looking for a hands-on experience and training in conducting therapy with patients with a range of mental disorders, and I felt the best way to do this was get my Psy.D.

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

I am currently employed as a psychologist for the New York City Police Department. I conduct psychological evaluations on candidates who want to be police officers, and other various positions within the department. I chose this job after I completed my doctoral internship year because I was interested in the forensic aspect of Clinical Psychology.

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

I use knowledge that I learned in BCS classes on a daily basis. On example is the biology of certain mental disorders and how they are treated with various psychotropic medications. This knowledge came in very handy while working on a psychiatric inpatient unit at Jacobi Hospital during my internship year, where most patients require medications. In addition, I recently had to take the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP), in order to get my license. There were several questions on this test that went right back to my introductory BCS courses! 

Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years I hope to be seeing patients privately, and hopefully be affiliated with a hospital either doing evaluations or treatment part-time.

What is your fondest memory of the University?

The way campus looks in the fall, and being in a place where everyone is exciting about learning.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Karissa Page

pageName: Karissa M. Page, MPH

UR Major:  Biology

Other UR Majors/Minors: Psychology (major)

Additional Education: Master of Public Health from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
Current City, State of Residence: Baton Rouge, LA

Job Title: Project Coordinator

Employer: Acadiana C.A.R.E.S.

How did you choose your major(s)?

I was initially pre-med.  Most everyone I knew had decided their major early on in their freshmen year, maybe even before they came to campus, but I was undeclared for as long as possible.  I first declared to be a psychology major, but then realized that I only needed a few more classes to also have a major in biology.

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

 I was involved with the UR’s College Republicans.  Leading a student group, planning activities and meetings for the group, and tactfully handling issues and controversies are skills I practiced with the College Republicans and use consistently in my work now.

What are some specific skills students should develop during an internship?

Students should hone their writing skills and have exposure to writing different types of work such as grant applications, progress reports, business letters, memorandums, and information for the public.  Students should strive to be exposed to as much of the organization they intern with as possible.  Lastly, make connections.  You never know where you will cross paths with someone again.

What is your opinion regarding graduate school vs. working right after graduation?

There is no proper order to follow.  Some people (employers, internship programs) embrace going straight from undergrad to graduate school, others criticize it.  I think it was easier to go straight to graduate school and continue with the life of a student – varying schedules, late nights, writing research papers.  For some, it’s very hard to return to that lifestyle once you’ve become accustomed to set working hours, a paycheck, having free time at night and on the weekends.  I went to graduate school directly from undergrad.  That seemed to be the “expected” route for UR students, and de rigueur for schools in the Northeast.  In other parts of the country, the opposite is true.

What early career advice can you give to current UR students studying biology?

Look for jobs that will bolster your skill set and professional tool box.  Continue to learn and grow, and push yourself out of your comfort zone.  An employer should want to see you mature professionally, even if that means you outgrow your position or their company, and move onto another job. 

What do you do now and why did you choose this career? Where would you like to be in five years?

 I coordinate the activities of a multiyear grant from the Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to improve HIV testing and linkage to care for prisoners in the Baton Rouge area.  My master of public health is focused on program and policy development.  I like creating new healthcare programs from scratch and bringing them to fruition.  In five years, I’d like to be managing an organization that provides access to care and quality of life improvement programs for all ages in suburban/rural communities.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Patricia Waters

WatersName: Patricia Waters
UR Major: Biology
Other UR Majors/Minors: Psychology
Additional Education: MS Secondary Education, Pace University; PhD Teaching and Curriculum, Warner School of Education
Current City, State of Residence: Oswego, NY
Job Title: Mentor-Scholar Coordinator
Employer: SUNY Oswego
Community Activities: Member, Leadership Oswego County; Chair, Oswego Education Alliance

How did you choose your major(s)?

Playing school as a child, I knew I always wanted to be a teacher. As an imaginative young writer, I was initially drawn to English. The discovery of babies during a shark dissection in AP biology quickly altered my content area interest to science. Admission into the University of Rochester solidified this path. With an affinity for understanding how people think, I also continued to take psychology courses for fun and graduated with a B.A. in Biology and Psychology.

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

Through my involvement in both the Jumpstart and Urban Fellows Program I gained the capacity to work with individuals of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and an understanding of diversity through participation in community based activities. I developed communication skills through event planning and the ability to design and implement lesson plans. An increased awareness of the history, politics, demographics, and sociology of urban systems have benefited me as an educator.

What are some specific skills students should develop during an internship?

Having financed my own education through merit-based scholarships, need-based loans, and federal work study I recognize how careful one must be in choosing an internship. To be successful one should establish professional, personal, and academic goals. As well, one should identify skills and experience you can personally offer. In addition to skill and knowledge development, internships above all offer the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills. Particularly, networking enables one to hear about job opportunities for which they may be a good fit.

What was your first job after graduation? What college experiences prepared or qualified you for that position?

After graduating, I joined Teach for America and obtained my MS in Secondary Education from Pace University. During two rigorous years of teaching in the Bronx, NY I persisted in the face of the challenge to obtain measurable results. My science background helped me diagnose my seventh grade students in the beginning of my first year. I was distressed to learn that many of them could not read a ruler. However, the cycle of observation and reflection found in the Teach for America program enabled me to use the data I collected to inform my instruction throughout the year. Upon realizing that low reading comprehension skills were to blame for my students’ struggles, I took a hands-on approach to learning and incorporated many laboratory activities to promote growth in their science abilities.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career? Where would you like to be in five years?

As the SUNY Oswego Mentor-Scholar Coordinator, I recruit and supervise undergraduate mentors providing one-on-one support to middle school students. Despite the varied focus, three attributes define my educational and professional journey: a thirst for knowledge, a passion for education, and dedication to service. I hope to continue teaching in the Oswego School of Education and will complete my dissertation in 2014 analyzing how communities experience service provided by institutions of higher education.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Riley O’Neil

O'Neil.Name: Riley O’Neil
UR Major:  Biology
Other UR Majors/Minors: Psychology, BA
Current City, State of Residence: Albany, NY
Job Title: Medical Student, Ensign
Employer: Albany Medical College, United States Navy
Community Activities: Youth mentoring/tutoring/educational programs

How did you choose your major(s)?

I choose both biology and psychology as a result of the great amount of freedom provided by UR’s cluster system.  I had the freedom to explore the areas I was interested in most.  I decided getting a broad introduction to each field was best for my career goals and me.

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

As a RA/CA, I gained significant practice in interacting and communicating with my peers in both casual conversations and about sensitive topics; something that has given me confidence as I begin the practice of patient interviews.

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

I spent a significant amount of my time working and doing research in the lab of Douglas Portman, PhD.  The lab provided me with many important opportunities to expand my education and I’ve done my best to stop in and visit when I’m back in the area.

What are some specific skills students should develop during an internship?

One thing I’ve come to appreciate more as my time at Rochester continued was the importance of networking.  The people you meet can be a great resource later on especially when it comes time to start getting interviews for your next step forward after graduation.

What is your opinion regarding graduate school vs. working right after graduation?

I can certainly see the benefits of both.  I think it’s highly dependent on the field you wish to pursue.  I’m personally happy with my decision to move directly on to a graduate program.  There have been times where I’m a bit jealous of the experiences my current colleagues have gained by working before starting their graduation education. 

What do you do now and why did you choose this career? Where would you like to be in five years?

I choose to pursue a career in medicine.  This was then, and is now, the most rewarding career I could think to enter.  I also made the decision to commission to the United States Navy through their Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP).  The program covers the cost of medical school in exchange for your future service.  Five years from now, I’d like to be well into the residency program of my choice and proudly serving our country.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Claire Agrawal

agrawalName:  Claire Agrawal

UR Major:  Biology

Other UR Majors/Minors: French, Psychology as a Social Science

Additional Education: Currently in University of Pittsburgh’s DPT program

Current City, State of Residence: Pittsburgh, PA

Community Activities:  Work one-on-one with a child with Down Syndrome and Autism at a Saturday morning program promoting motor and social development through gym and swimming activities

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

I was on the Bhangra dance team and the a cappella group After-Hours. The biggest things I gained from being involved in these activities are friendships and a realization of how important it is to find something outside of schoolwork/a career that you like to do.   Doing extracurricular activities in college showed me what I could do to feel balanced in life and also gave me a skills base in dancing and singing to build upon after college.  Knowing that these are the activities I like to do, I sought out more opportunities in dancing and music after moving to a new city for grad school. Doing so has helped me adjust to the new city faster, balance the stress of grad school, and meet people who enjoy doing the same things I do.

What are some specific skills students should develop during an internship?

An internship is an excellent opportunity to develop your professional skills.  Punctuality, presentation of yourself, positivity, flexibility, and initiative are all aspects of professional behavior that have been emphasized in grad school as vital components of surviving in the work-force.   In my case, it is in regards to patient care as a physical therapist. But I believe these skills are valuable in any setting, and truly open doors for you beyond good grades alone.  An internship is an ideal setting in which to practice these skills because your position changes from student to colleague and you work within a team to achieve a goal instead of a grade.

What did you wish you had known before graduating? What would you have done differently?

I wish I had taken better advantage of intern/volunteer opportunities during college (especially during summers) to investigate different careers.  I have a friend from U of R who applied to a wide variety of internships (some unpaid) in areas she was interested in, including some that did not obviously relate to her major.   While reflecting back on college with her, I was fascinated by how each of her seemingly unrelated experiences contributed to the job she now has (she works for a think tank). I admire how she followed her interests instead of just a predictable track for her major.

What early career advice can you give to current UR students studying biology?

My advice would be to consider the day-to-day job routine you can see yourself in.   Do you want to work independently or with a team or with patients/clients for the majority of the day? Do you want a fast-paced atmosphere or a quieter one where you have more time to think about decisions? If you’re interested in research, I would recommend trying to get involved in both lab and clinical research to see if you prefer one more than the other before ruling research out.  If you are interested in health-related careers, don’t forget about nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, dentistry, pharmacy, and other allied health fields in addition to medicine

What do you do now and why did you choose this career? Where would you like to be in five years?

 I am currently in grad school to become a physical therapist.  I chose this path because I want a career that has me on my feet instead of behind a desk, that involves direct social interaction with people, and that relates the biological sciences to improving human health.  I also chose it because of the opportunity to do clinical work, teaching, and research all in the same job down the road. In five years, I hope to be practicing as a physical therapist with a specialty in Women’s Health Rehab or Neurology.  My goal is to practice physical therapy abroad as well, in order to gain a better perspective of the role of a PT in different health care systems.