I was raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota by a father who is an imaging engineer in the radiation oncology department of the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC) and a mother who stayed at home with me until I began elementary school when she became a self-employed house cleaner. They raised me to value knowledge and enhanced my early interest in science by buying me science kits and a microscope when I was nine, which helped solidify my life-long interest in the subject. In addition, my grandmother gave me her piano and began paying for my piano lessons when I was eight years old, sparking an interest in performing music that lasts until this day. I was fortunate to grow up with such a strong support system to encourage my love of learning, science, and music.
As a thirteen-year-old, I had become interested in becoming a doctor because of my parents’ praise of my scientific abilities and their belief that I would excel as a doctor. Following up on this desire, I joined the junior volunteer program at the UMMC in the summer after my freshman year of high school to gain a better understanding of medicine. Through this program, I learned of the motivation required of doctors, and I began to question my intentions to pursue such a career. I lacked confidence in my own desire because my parents had played such a large role in my experiences in medicine up to that point in my life; therefore, I made an important decision to explore other careers to find one that I was sincerely interested in investing my life’s work.
For the rest of high school, I was set on becoming a pharmacist and began preparing myself for such a career. I job shadowed a pharmacist in tenth grade who told me of the importance of chemistry for the job so I immediately signed up to take AP chemistry the following year. A combination of my interest in the course, encouragement from my teacher, its relevance to my career goals, and influence of my older brother who was majoring in chemistry cemented my decision to major in chemistry in college.
I began my freshman year at the University of Minnesota still wanting to become a pharmacist, but that did not last long. During this year, I was exposed to academic research and changed my career plans because I believed that I could impact a greater population by searching for novel information that could lead to improved treatment of disease. This caused my educational goals to shift to pursuing a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry or pharmacology and my undergraduate education to focus on complimenting my chemistry major with biology and biochemistry minors to gain a thorough understanding of the science underlying human life and disease, which would prepare me for whatever health-related career I pursued.
Over the next two years, I continued to prepare myself for graduate school and a career in medical research by working in a genetic engineering lab for a year before taking a position in a medicinal chemistry and carcinogenesis lab in the cancer center. As an undergraduate research assistant in the cancer center, I was exposed to research ranging from basic chemistry and biology to translational application of such research. This helped me learn about cancer, how it affects a person’s body, and how it affects a person’s life. By understanding how my work was applicable toward human lives, I became much more interested in the human side of cancer and felt an urge to become a doctor but I was too attracted to research to give it up. As I was researching graduate programs in the spring of my junior year of college, I discovered the Medical Scientist Training Program that would allow me to pursue both my clinical and research aspirations to become a physician-scientist. Knowing that there is a realistic way to combine my career aspirations, I realized that I am driven not by an interest in research or clinical work individually but by a passion for doing everything that I can to contribute to curing cancer.
At the University of Minnesota, I feel that I have taken full advantage of the opportunities available at the university. In the marching band and pep bands in the past four years, I have learned valuable life skills regarding teamwork and motivation as I give back to the university that I love by being an enthusiastic ambassador for the school’s tradition and pride. Further, I devote my time and energy as a leader in the athletic bands organization to teach and inspire my fellow band members so that they can best share their love of this school with others as well. In addition, I did even more for this band and this school as the President of the university’s chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary band sorority. A major part of my efforts in these roles is to inspire others to gain confidence in their own abilities and to use this confidence to push themselves to excel.
Beyond the scope of my leadership roles, my involvement has helped me gain a better understanding of my inspiration and the vision I hold for my future career as well as a greater confidence in my abilities. As an undergraduate research assistant, I have learned to be an independent researcher, gained experience with grant writing, and learned how to present my research both in oral and written formats. I also gained experience with teaching as a teaching assistant for an online biochemistry course. Most importantly, I remain involved in the intravenous infusion suite of the masonic cancer center so that I am able to have a direct impact on cancer patients each week; having such interactions inspires me to do everything that I can for these people. All in all, these activities have solidified my determination to become a physician scientist and I look forward to pursuing such a career path at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Featured image: Hanna Erickson