Hello iJOBS blog readers, my name is Helena Mello! I am a 4th year Ph.D. student at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Newark Campus, working with Dr. David Lukac. My research focuses on autophagy and herpesvirus reactivation from latency. In 2014, I received my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, where I am originally from. Prior to my research career at Rutgers, I also spent one year as here as an exchange student.
Even though my undergraduate degree covered a broad range of biology-related topics (from plant systematics to cell signaling networks), I have always been interested in biomedicine. Therefore, during my second year of college, I joined the Embryology and Cell Differentiation laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Ana Helena Paz. There, I was exposed to scientific research for the first time. I learned not only hard skills, such as cell culture, but also many important soft skills. The masters and doctoral students shared their experimental designs and hypotheses and taught me how to critically read a paper. Most importantly, they showed me how rewarding it is to work in a collaborative environment with a supportive mentor.
After that experience, I moved to New Jersey for my exchange program. At Rutgers, I focused my curriculum on courses that are not available back home. I also had a wonderful TA in my Lab in Immunology class, who opened my eyes to the Ph.D. process in the U.S., and also taught me a great deal about immunology. In addition to my experience at Rutgers, I worked as a summer intern at AbbVie, a large scale pharma company outside of Chicago. My time at AbbVie was an invaluable opportunity to learn how research is done outside of academia, and how results are translated into final products. Like my time at Rutgers, I had the opportunity to work with a great mentor who had been in the company for 20+ years, and not only supported me in my research, but also in my desire to learn more about a career in that area.
Fast-forward to 2018, I am starting my 4th year of graduate school and starting to look back on the path I have walked. Of course, scientific research is an essential aspect of my excitement for the future, but the fact that I have worked with inspiring people who challenge me intellectually is a highlight. When I think about my path after completing my Ph.D., I envision careers that include teamwork in a collaborative environment. I have attended several iJOBS events since my 1st year as a Ph.D. student. These events have helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses, identify my interests, and develop a plan towards a career goal. I am considering careers in informal education, science communication, and science policy. You will read a lot about those topics in my blog posts, and I hope they will help you make informed decisions about your professional life as well!
Written by Helena Mello, with contributions and edits from Eileen Oni and Paulina Krzyszczyk.