Graduate Ambassador at Cornell University
Hometown: San Sebastian, PR
Graduate Program: Biomedical and Biological Sciences, Ph.D.
Anticipated Graduation Date: 2023
Institution: University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez
Major: Industrial Microbiology
I grew up in the small town of San Sebastián, Puerto Rico. Since I was small, I was intrigued by the tropical forest and the wildlife that inhabited it. I joined the Boy Scouts which, through camping and hiking, allowed me to explore the nature around me. I decided I wanted to be a biologist at a very young age, but it wasn't until I got to high school that I decided to study microbiology. I participated in a summer camp focused on biotechnology called BETTeR-IC+ that was hosted by the University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez (UPR-M). After this summer camp, I was decided to study microbial genetics. I did my undergraduate studies in Microbiology at UPR-M, where I joined the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. Thanks to the MARC program, I was able to perform research at various universities, like the University of Notre Dame, Rutgers University, and UPR-M. These experiences all led to my current position as a Ph.D. student in the Biomedical and Biological Sciences program at Cornell.
I chose Cornell for two main reasons: my research interests and the environment at Cornell. At the time of applying to grad school, my research interests were still very broad, spanning various fields of microbiology, such as virology, microbial ecology, microbial genetics and genomics, and synthetic biology. Cornell is a place where I could explore all of these interests and even combine some of them due to the interdisciplinary and collaborative research performed on campus, which leads me to the second reason. Cornell's research environment is highly collaborative and made me feel welcome when I visited for interviews. BBS culture is especially friendly and welcoming.
I am interested in the role of the gut microbiome in human disease, a field at the intersection of microbiology, genomics, and systems biology. My project focuses on the development of a tool for genetic manipulation of the microbiome in order to facilitate research of microbiome-associated diseases and potentially prevent these diseases. Our goal is to leverage the microbial process of horizontal gene transfer to deliver our targeted gene editing tool throughout the gut community, creating functional changes in the microbiome without altering the abundance of its members.
Once you make the decision to pursue graduate school, what follows is a long line of more important decisions: What programs/universities should I apply to? What program should I join? What advisor will I choose? etc. My advice is to take the time to think carefully about each of these choices. Everyone has different priorities, so when you search for programs, list out these priorities in order of importance to you and analyze how each program addresses your priority points. I personally like to make spreadsheets and used this tool to help with my decision-making process. Don't be afraid to ask questions and contact recruiters or program directors. The more informed your decision is, the more you set yourself up for success once you start grad school.