Mentor: William Decker, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Major: Molecular Biology
Undergraduate School: Pomona College
Why Did You Choose BCM?
When I came to BCM for interviews, I felt very welcome. The faculty that I interviewed with were great and thought that their research was interesting. I could see myself working in a couple of those labs and eventually I did join one of those! I met a cool group of current students and they all seemed to be enjoying their experience which was reassuring. Overall, everyone was friendly and I liked the atmosphere.
I liked that there are a lot of labs with different kinds of research, so there is something for everyone and a lot of opportunities to explore. Being in a place that focuses more on biomedical research also means that there are a lot of opportunities for more translational research that you might not find in some other schools. The high caliber of the faculty was also a big draw. The faculty here are some of the top researchers in their fields and the opportunity to work with them or to hear from them in classes or talks was exciting. There is a lot of room to expand your knowledge of many fields in whatever depth you wish to.
I also chose BCM because of the location. I grew up in San Antonio, so being in Houston meant that I could be closer to home. This was especially nice because I lived in California for undergrad so I didn't get to see my family as frequently as I can now. I also have a lot of extended family living here which is nice because I get to spend more time with them.
What is your research interest?
My lab focuses on cancer immunotherapy. My project revolves around the role of Dendritic Cells (DC) in the polarization of T cells. Specifically, I am looking at the role of DC-specific aminoacyl t-RNA synthetase complex-interacting multifunctional protein 1, AIMp1, in inducing a Th1 response for antitumor and antiviral responses.
Why Did You Choose Your Mentor?
I chose Dr. William Decker for a lot of reasons. I was interested in his research, but I also found that his mentoring style is great. He takes mentoring very seriously and really cares about the well-being of all his students. He invests a lot of time into helping us all grow both scientifically and personally. He is always there for us when we need it, but also gives us the freedom to pursue our scientific interests. He is one of the most supportive people I know, and I feel that I can always go to him when I need any help or encouragement. I also really liked everyone in the lab, and it really does feel like a second family to me.
What Aspects of Training Has Been Most Influential in Preparing For Your Intended Career?
Being in my lab, I have learned a lot about immunology that I previously didn't know. I have learned how to work with a new model and with new techniques, all of which will be important for my future research. Importantly, I have had many opportunities for mentoring other students. I have done some work as a teacher assistant and I have also had the chance to serve as bench mentor for a PREP student as well as the rotation students that come through the lab. I have also seen a lot of good qualities for what it looks like to be a successful mentor from my principal investigator, so I think that will all help with my goal of being a principal investigator myself.
Did Baylor's Location in the Texas Medical Center Enhance Your Experience?
The Texas Medical Center truly is an impressive place. BCM being in the TMC means that we can collaborate with researchers from any of the other institutions in the area. It is a very collaborative community that makes it easy to network across the facilities. Personally, I have a couple of thesis committee members that are based out of Texas Children's Hospital. My lab also has a clinical trial going which has been facilitated by the fact that we are so close to the hospital we are collaborating with.
What Are Your Career Plans?
I am interested in being an academic researcher. I would like to become a primary investigator and teach. I am especially interested in being able to mentor underrepresented students, like myself, to encourage them to pursue scientific careers.
What Do You Enjoy About Living in Houston?
There is a lot to like about Houston. Firstly, you'll hear this a lot but Houston has so much diversity. Houston is very rich in a lot of cultures. You can get food from pretty much any cuisine and there are always cultural events going on across the city. There are a plethora of activities for people to do whether that's museums, physical activities, nightlife, or anything in between. No matter what you like to do in your free time, there is a community for it here.
As someone who doesn't like the cold, I really enjoy the weather here. Yes, it gets very hot and humid, but honestly, you get used to it and that's also what air conditioning is for! It does rain a lot but most of the time the weather is nice and sunny. You can also choose to enjoy a nice day on the beach with just an hour's drive!
One more thing I appreciate about Houston is that you have the ability to choose what kind of environment you want to be in. Because Houston is so big, so it has a lot of options--you can choose to be downtown where you can get more of that city feel or you can go a little further out and get the suburb-type environment. Ultimately though, whatever lifestyle you choose, you can still benefit from all of the resources of a major city.
What Advice Do You Have for Prospective Students?
Remember that if you've gotten this far, it is because you are qualified, so just relax and be yourself! We want to get to know you, but interviews are just as much about you trying to find the school that is the right fit. Talk to other students--they will probably be your best resource in gauging how your grad school experience will be. Make sure that you look for good mentors first and good research second (ideally you have both!). You want to make sure that you have a good support system inside and outside the lab. Don't forget to take care of yourself, have hobbies, and try to maintain a good work-life balance. Keep yourself well-rounded and try to have fun whenever you can!