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Pathways Alumni

2017 Pathways graduate Chiamaka Ukachukwu

ChiChi is currently a Fulbright scholar in Belguim. In this video, she discusses her experience and background. She will be returning to the University of Michigan for a PhD in the Fall, 2018. She did her Master's degree research with the Chapman Lab.

Kamirah Demouchet

Kamirah completed her MS in 2016.

Upon graduating from the Pathway’s Program in MCDB, I joined the Biophysics doctoral program at the University of Michigan. I am currently rotating in the Stockbridge Lab where my project involves working on fluoride channels.  The required year of teaching really helped me in my current rotation because I chose to teach biochemistry, and my project requires a decent background in biochemistry. Besides the required teaching, the greatest benefit I received from the program was the importance of finding a good mentor. In my opinion, a mentor will shape how you spend your time in graduate school in such a way that you may or may not reach your full potential. I wish I would have known this when applying to graduate school during my senior year in undergrad at Xavier University of Louisiana. I applied to Michigan’s PIBS program and was rejected, but I was contacted by MCDB and asked if I would be interested in the Pathways Program, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to get some biology under my belt since my background was in Chemistry, Math, and Physics.  At the end of my senior year of undergrad, I knew I wanted to do research, but I wanted a change of scenery in every aspect.

Upon being accepted into the Pathways Program, I also had to decide where I wanted to live because I had managed to get a few other acceptances under my belt. I was initially leary of Michigan because being from Louisiana I had never experienced a real winter, and I was literally terrified at the idea of having to function in a normal routine in single digit weather conditions.  As it turns out, Ann Arbor is fully equipped for cold temperature conditions and with proper clothing everything was just fine.  With that being said, if you are a person with no biology background this a great way to gain not only experience in biology but also the opportunity to live in new place. Another bonus of this program is that it is no charge to the student, and you receive a competitive living stipend.

Jose Miguel Andrade Lopez

Jose completed his Master's in Spring, 2015. 

This profile is from Fall 2015.

After completing my masters program at Michigan, I moved to the Bay Area to pursue research. I grew up in California, so it feels like moving back home ever since I returned to the west coast. I am currently a graduate student at Stanford University’s Biology PhD program. Part of the reason for moving back to California was to pursue my research interest studying the evolution and development of marine organisms. Stanford has a unique graduate program where I will be able to study at the main campus and also pursue research at the Hopkins Marine Station, a few miles south of the main campus. I eventually plan on joining Chris Lowe’s Lab at the Station where I will be investigating the evolution of deuterostomes by studying our basal sister species, hemichordates and echinoderms. We can gain really useful insight into the evolution of chordates by studying these organisms, and investigating questions like the evolution of the neural crest, direct development, and body plan patterning.

In what ways did the Michigan Pathways Program prepare you for what you are doing?
Pathways gave me a sense of what it is like to be part of a scientific community through my participation in seminars, workshops, and dialogue with professors and graduate students in the department about science. I learned that professors are more than just lecturers; they are valuable mentors and colleagues that want to see you succeed post graduation. The Pathways program nurtured my confidence to pursue science as a career. Doing a masters program also allowed me to take the time to really think about science before jumping straight into a PhD program. I came out of the Pathways program better prepared to explain what drives my scientific curiosity by fine-tuning the research questions that are important to me. My positive experience in the Pathways Program is the reason why I am still in a lab today.

Are there other benefits from spending time in the Pathways Program?
Looking back, the one thing that stands out as the most beneficial aspect of the Pathways Program is the support students get from both the MCDB department and the Rackham Graduate School. There’s a ton resources that the University invests in to ensure that graduate students get the most out of their training: funds for research, conference travel grants, workshops on how to succeed in grad school, and even funds for personal travel. This is often taken for granted, but having the support to conduct your research and attending conferences to network with people in the field is important.

Aside from research support, both of the Pathways directors, Laura Olsen and Anuj Kumar, are fantastic mentors. They guided me through the PhD application process and offered invaluable encouragement to continue research. Pathways aims to be a transitioning program into a competitive PhD, and anyone participating in Pathways will definitely get the foundations necessary to be successful in research beyond their time at Michigan.

My favorite thing about the Pathways Program was, in all honesty, being given the opportunity to try out research at Michigan. It was a very rewarding experience having the opportunity to work in a lab where I felt comfortable, was constantly challenged, and where I learn how to fail at science, and then somehow figure out my way to the next question with equally as much drive. Science is not easy, and I am grateful that Pathways allowed me to learn this during my studies. The Pathway Program provided me with all of the foundations to help me be successful in research, but it was up to me to learn how to make use of this experience. This is why the opportunity to be part of the first cohort in the Pathways Program was my favorite aspect of the program. I learned how to be a researcher during my experience.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about the Pathways Program at the University of Michigan?
I would recommend going through the MCDB faculty page to identify potential research labs. For obvious reasons, if none of the research at Michigan interests you, then you probably won’t enjoy the experience. I think that the department is broad enough that most will find some research overlap. I would recommend reaching out to current students and faculty to start a dialogue about their experience in the department and about your research interests and how the department can satisfy them. Consider what you want to get out of a masters program. Maybe you want to learn new techniques, take graduate classes in a new field, or simply get additional research experience. Also, it is very difficult to find a fully funded masters program like the one Michigan offers, so figure out how this program can help you achieve these goals and then put them in action.

Ann Arbor is an amazing city, especially during the summer and fall with all the live concerts and art shows. The restaurant and café options are also great, as are outdoor activities. You will definitely get a showcase of all four seasons in Ann Arbor. I suggest looking into the area and picturing yourself there. For example, the University of Michigan has a big student cooperative housing system that you can be a part of during your two-year stay for anyone interested in an affordable, social living environment.

Jose completed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley in Integrative Biology with a minor in Chicana/o Studies. Most of his time was invested in volunteering and researching at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. He did everything from numbering bones, preparing specimen samples and taxidermy, to sequencing and phylogenetic analyses.

Did you have any research experience while an undergrad?‬‬‬‬
I was fortunate to have participated in several summer research experiences at Berkeley, UCSF, and UCLA before I began my research at Michigan, so I had already dipped my toes in very different research fields like studying speciation in geckoes, viruses in humans, and development and patterning in jellyfish. My senior project at Berkeley looked at the modes of speciation in an Australian gecko during aridification and how small pockets of refugium enabled this gecko to adapt and radiate into multiple different species throughout the continent. Even though I was part of a research lab throughout my entire undergraduate studies, it wasn’t until Pathways that I was able to take some ownership and invest a substantial amount of time on a research question.

What got you interested in science, and biology, in particular?‬‬‬‬
My interest in science began with a strong fascination with animal. I have always had pets growing up because I liked watching them move and behave in their own unique ways. I became amazed by all the animal diversity that existed, and I always found it rewarding when I saw a newly discovered organism from the densest jungles to the deepest oceans appear in a Nova special on PBS. This fascination with biodiversity drove me to take all the biology classes and electives in school just to read bout these cool creatures. I eventually made it a hobby and began studying animals in a petri dish and under a microscope. It was the smoothest, most natural transition for me. My initial interest with animal diversity led to my current research questions investigating the genetic mechanisms that produce novel phenotypes and also entirely new animals in general.

Candi Esquina

Candi completed her Master's degree in May, 2015.

This profile is from Fall 2015.

I am currently a first year PhD student in the Purdue University Interdisciplinary Life Science Program (PULSe), at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. This first year I will rotate to four different labs, and will decide which lab to join at the end of the academic year.

In what ways did the Michigan Pathways Program prepare you for what you are doing?

The Michigan Pathways Program gave me the opportunity to work on a research project and present my work to a thesis committee. This thesis committee was useful in that they provided great advice on how to present my scientific research better. The program also provided me with more scientific research experience. This has allowed me to think more like a scientist. I’m not fully there yet, which is why I decided to continue my education in a PhD program. How the Pathways Program is structured, it is similar to how a PhD is structured; it is just a shorter time frame.

Are there other benefits to spending time in the Pathways Program?

There are benefits from spending time in the Pathways Program, and one of them is getting to attend conferences with the Pathways Travel Aid. This is how I got to attend the Society for Neuroscience conference on November 2014 in Washington D.C. You get to learn more about work in your field and get a small vacation. You would need to talk to your PI to know which conference would be beneficial to you.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about the Pathways Program?

The advice I would give anyone considering the Pathways Program is that it gives you a good idea if you want to continue to a PhD program or not. It serves as a useful experience if you want to continue and get a PhD. Everyone that I interacted with in MCDB was always nice and helpful. You can never go wrong with an education at the University of Michigan. Go Blue!I didn’t think I was graduate school material, so I was not planning to apply to graduate school while I was in undergrad. One of my favorite professors encouraged me to apply to masters programs and that is when I realized that maybe I was graduate school material. I haven’t regretted applying and getting into graduate school.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies?

I got a BS in Health Science at Aurora University in Aurora, IL.Did you have any research experience while an undergrad?I had a tiny bit of research experience while at Aurora University.

What got you interested in science, and biology, in particular?

I love learning new things. In undergrad, I noticed that I was always excited for my science classes. It is just so crazy to me that there is a lot that we do not know about, and I am curious about the world around me and how it works.