As a member of the University of Florida Alumni, Aaron Sandoval looks back at his Undergraduate Experience in this podcast. As Goldwater Scholar Aaron shares his undergraduate college journey.
Aaron always had an interest in Biology. He spent time outdoors chasing and catching bugs. He liked watching the Discovery Channel. Once he got to University of Florida, he found his research passion working on Regeneration.
He won the Goldwater Scholarship, and then showed leadership by organizing the past scholars into a support network to collaborate and support new scholars.
Aaron received the Marshall Scholarship to study in the UK and is now at Harvard Medical School.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: Aaron Sandoval of U of Florida: Biology, Goldwater Scholar, and UG Research in Regeneration.
Aaron always had an interest in Biology. He spent time outdoors chasing and catching bugs. He liked watching the Discovery Channel. Once he got to University of Florida, he found his research passion working on Regeneration.
Aaron joins our podcast to share his undergraduate college journey, UG Research in Regeneration at the University of Florida, Winning the Goldwater Scholarship and his advice for high schoolers.
In particular, we discuss the following with him:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guests: Aaron Sandoval is a graduate of University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He is the recipient of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2018. As a Marshall Scholar, he received the Master of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and Master of Science in Stem Cell and Regenerative Therapies from King’s College, London. Aaron is currently at Harvard Medical School.
Memorable Quote: “But whenever I got involved with an initiative or extracurricular, and I was working with [a] Professor to solve a certain problem, like a research problem, or to start a new organization, that's when I was able to really, really get to know my professor super well. Because I had a lot of one-on-one face time with them. And not for the purpose of having FaceTime with them, but for the purpose of solving a problem.” Aaron Sandoval.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
I think it's really great to focus really well really hard on something like regeneration for me, but then also having things outside of that supplement. And not even just be something on the side but something that really adds to an invigorates my main interest in science because at the end of the day, what all research for what most researchers are doing this work for, especially in the biomedical field is to help people. And that was something that might that maybe gets lost a little bit if you're just working in a lab and you don't really see the patients.
That is Aaron Sandoval, a Goldwater Scholar, and a graduate of the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology.
Hello! I am your host Venkat Raman.
Aaron always had an interest in Biology.
Growing up in Florida, he took a number of Biology related classes in high School.
He spent time outdoors chasing and catching bugs.
He liked watching the Discovery Channel.
He was also on the school tennis team.
But what he enjoyed most was just hanging out with people, and getting to know them.
Venkat Raman 1:28
Aaron joins our podcast to share his undergraduate college journey, UG Research in Regeneration at the University of Florida, Winning the Goldwater Scholarship and his advice for high schoolers.
Venkat Raman 1:45
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
[Overall U of Florida Experience]
Pretty big School, the big state state institution. But I feel that I got just as much out of us as I would have anywhere else in the world. And if not more, and I think UF was actually the perfect institution for me to do my undergraduate studies.
[Why U of Florida?]
Yeah, so I definitely did look around the country and applied to other places and was fortunate enough to get into other schools around the country. But really what it came down to was cost for me the cost of attending college, which is quite high. Often, I was fortunate enough to get a full cost attendant scholarship to attend UF, thanks to what's called the Benaquisto Scholarship, which is awarded to National Merit Scholars.
[Getting into UG Research]
I got to a page that said regeneration and it kind of like lit my my head on because regeneration is like oh, it's like a superpower. That like almost right. It doesn't even sound like it's really like a real thing. But the more I read about it, the more incredible it is. And so that's how I got connected to that. And I reached out to the professor, Dr. Malcolm Maden, one of my probably one of the most influential individuals I've ever met in my life.
Sitting at a conference, I believe at Harvard College, my freshman year, and an upperclassman who came to my posterior we were talking and then when she found out that I was a freshman, she told me to look out for what's called the Goldwater Scholarship. And it's a scholarship for funding the next generation of leaders in scientific engineering, mathematical research.
[Advice for High Schoolers]
Something that, try not to be shy. Don't be shy about cold emailing, or cold calling or cold contacts. And when I say cold, I mean like there's no you have no connection to this person. You're just reaching out, out of the blue. Do that for professors, even older students, I think I got a lot from older students who were a couple years ahead of me who had gone through the process and they were able to like mentor and guide me a lot.
Venkat Raman 3:50
These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.
Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Venkat Raman 4:11
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Aaron.
So without further ado, here is Aaron Sandoval!
Venkat Raman 4:21
Let's get started with maybe your overall college experience at University of Florida your undergraduate experience, and we'll go from there.
Sure. So I attended the University of Florida from 2016 to 2020. So graduated a couple years ago now and had a fantastic time at us. I'm originally from Florida. I was born and raised in as your central Florida near Orlando Tampa area. So you aquas not too far from home for me. It's a pretty big school, the big state state institution and I feel that I got Just as much out of us, as I would have anywhere else in the world, and if not more, and I think UF was actually the perfect institution for me to do my undergraduate studies, that may not be true for other people, because everyone is different than everyone will succeed at different institutions, depending on where they are. But for me, I think UF was the ideal place to study as an undergraduate. And I really, really loved it there.
Venkat Raman 5:26
Maybe we can start with why, why did you pick your Florida? Or did you look at other places? Or how did that happen?
Yeah, so I definitely did look around the country and applied to other places and was fortunate enough to get into other schools around the country. But really what it came down to was cost for me, the cost of attending college was quite high, often. I was fortunate enough to get a full cost attendance scholarship to attend UofF, thanks to what's called the Benacquisto Scholarship, which is awarded to National Merit Scholars.
I think any national merit scholar, I don't know if you have to be from Florida. And then you can attend any institution in the state fully funded. So that was huge for me. And I knew that I wanted to go to medical for graduate school, after undergrad, and I knew that was going to cost more money. So I really wanted to save money in undergrad if I could. And so this was sort of a perfect opportunity for me, and it worked out really, really well.
Venkat Raman 6:26
So maybe, what would you like in high school? What are your sort of interests?
Sure. So really growing up, I spent a lot of time outside, we have really beautiful weather in Florida for most of the year. So I spend a lot of time outdoors, trying to like catch bugs. And like I really wasn't really interested in animals. So I was always interested in in biology, and nature broadly, Discovery Channel is like my favorite channel on TV. So in high school, I kind of already had an inkling that I liked biology. So I took whenever whenever we were allowed to choose like electives, I would choose to take more like biology focus electives.
I didn't participate in any, like, laboratory research in high school, which, in hindsight, maybe I wish I did, because I really love laboratory research, which we'll talk about later when we're talking about my time. But I was a little more how do I undifferentiated so I wasn't completely sure about my path, but I already had interests in life. So I was already thinking about potentially a career in like, like a researcher or a medical doctor or veterinarian, so that sort of domain. But I was still still unsure and took a lot of classes outside of biology as well, I took a lot of random classes in high school.
One thing that I did do in high school, which in hindsight was very helpful to me was I took a lot of AP, IB dual enrollment classes, which allowed me to get college credits during high school. And then when I got to college, that sort of gave me a lot of flexibility. And I didn't have to take as many classes and I could kind of jump to the more advanced classes that I was interested in, rather than spending my time doing, like Gen Ed's in the beginning.
Venkat Raman 8:10
Absolutely, absolutely. But what did you do outside of class? What can extracurriculars in high school were you into?
Aaron S 8:15
In high school? So I played a lot of tennis in high school, I was on the tennis team, and I love doing that. Um, so I wasn't terribly good at tennis, but I just really loved it and had a lot of fun doing it. And then I just did like all the other like high school things kind of just like hanging out with friends.
Spending a lot of time just like getting to know other people. So it wasn't super involved in anything like I didn't like I didn't really do any research. In high school, I spent a lot of time so like outdoors, I like to be around a lot. So it was basically just those things. I wasn't super, I wasn't really thinking too far ahead. Back then about my future career. I was more just enjoying the time I had high school.
Venkat Raman 9:08
To finish high school, go to University of Florida. What was that transition? Like? How did that feel? How did that go?
So I actually started at us in the summer term before so most people start in the fall term, but I opted to start in the summer term for a couple of reasons. One was I wanted to kind of get my feet set at USF not having to worry about taking a full course load and having to transition from living with my parents at home to like living on my own. I think that was really helpful. It was sort of like a smaller campus so to speak, and that there were fewer people on campus. And I was able to it was it's kind of Yeah, it was It wasn't overwhelming to begin with. And by the time that fall actually rolled around, then I felt that I was really ready to. I felt like I'd be having an advantage over some other students who are just making the transition Some things are done already spent like a month or two on the campus getting used to things. And I took it pretty slow. When I first got there, I knew I didn't want to like I didn't want to like take really different classes at the very beginning I wanted to sort of transition in. But I'd say the transition was pretty smooth. I had the I was fortunate enough to have some friends from high school, also go to UF, a lot of people in Florida ended up going to UF. So that's no surprise. But that also made the transition a little easier. But yeah, it was I really enjoyed that. That first summer term. And by the time the ball came around, that I was ready to start taking more intensive courses. And I really feel that my my high school experience prepared me well for for the rigors of college. Like I said, it took a lot of advanced more advanced coursework. Yeah. And that paid dividends when it came to starting college.
Venkat Raman 10:54
So what were your peers like?
So like I said, my peers. So the the people I actually spent the most time with in the beginning were all my friends who had come from Costco, with Yeah, from high school. And it was interesting, actually, because we all had different interests, I didn't have any close friends who ended up becoming like pre med, which when I was in college, and that was to my benefit, because I got a lot of different perspectives, I learned a lot about different domains. And actually, one concrete example was my roommate college, my direct roommate, he was a finance major. And he was the one I actually learned about the idea of internships and doing summer internships, because that's a very common practice in in that field. Whereas for me, I hadn't really thought about that, to going to do an internship, I will say, internships in biology, like biomedical research are different than internships in finance. But the idea of going out from the university and finding opportunities elsewhere during the summer, because you actually have to look months in advance before the summer. So you actually want to start looking around maybe late fall, early spring in order to get those summer experiences. And I wouldn't have thought about that had I not been exposed to my roommate who was more in tune with how everything works in his his own field. So that was actually really helpful to me being around people who weren't specifically pre med not to say that I had a lot of pre med friends as well. But I think having like a diverse set of friends who are all in different domains, you can really learn a lot from people who have different experiences from you, I believe that. And so that was a little bit of how I benefited from my friends who were studying different things. And it was also really interesting just to talk about things that weren't biology once in a while, because I see like a significant amount of time. So it makes you like a more well rounded individual. I think it's interesting to hear somebody talk about what they're passionate about. And I think it's also fun to teach other people about what you're passionate about, especially if they're having a background because it really shows you if you know your stuff, you can describe it and explain it in such a way that anybody from any background can understand what you're saying.
Venkat Raman 12:59
So how did you find the professors, the teaching?
Sure. So I will say one, One obstacle that I encountered, or at least initially at UF is that it is a big school, a very big school, and sometimes the lectures, the classes could be hundreds of students. So you kind of feel like you're lost in an ocean of students. And there's only one professor and everyone wants to try to talk to the professor. So it's hard to make those connections early on in those large lecture courses, like intro to biochem like those are, it's just very difficult. One way to do to get around that is to go to office hours and try to be engaged with a professor on a more personal level. But even then, there's also a lot of students who go to those office hours, when I found actually really helpful was when I took smaller upper level courses, where instead of hundreds of students, it's like 10 to 15 students, or even discussion based courses were less of a lecture and more like an in class discussion, I felt it was a lot easier to connect with professors in those sorts of environments. And I also found that whenever I was, I can talk more about all the extracurriculars and initiatives I got involved in later on the podcast. But whenever I got involved with an initiative or extracurricular, and I was working with Professor to solve a certain problem, like a research problem, or to start a new organization, that's when I was able to really, really get to know my professors super well, because I had a lot of one on one FaceTime with them. And not for the purpose of having FaceTime with them, but for the purpose of solving a problem and it's a byproduct, I was able to make really good connections with my friends that way.
Venkat Raman 14:37
Okay, so let's jump into the research then. How did you, how did you get introduced to undergraduate research?
So as I mentioned earlier, I already had an inkling that I wanted to, I was always interested in science projects again. A lot of them that were were actually got super interested in science and like research science. because I'm a huge like, comic book, superhero fan, and a lot of a lot of the comic book superheroes, like the Hulk or spider man, like, they're actually just scientists at their core. Even Ironman, technically, as a scientist, just an engineer, right? That was a cool way to say like, I always wanted to be a researcher myself, like getting involved wearing a white lab coat and like, do the experiments. That sounds really cool to me. It's up to you, if that's one of the first things I wanted to find one to find a research opportunity.
And so the way I went about doing that was I basically just went onto the UF Biology Department website, and I knew I wanted to be like biology research, generally. Biology is the problem. Psychology is like, very broad, like you have pet biology, but also like, like microbiology, and like, all lots of different sorts of things. So it was actually a lot to go through. And I had to like kind of just skimming through the pages and see what stood out to me. And what I was finding was a lot of the times, I couldn't understand any of the words that were on the page, like a lot of terms, a lot of terminology, I just didn't have the understanding, which is okay, at the beginning. It's kind of daunting. But um, and sometimes the stuff just didn't seem like it didn't catch my attention, just like they're studying, like a specific gene and specific organism for the specific reason. Like I couldn't see how it was, it just wouldn't interest me and not to say that it's not important work, but it just wasn't ignited a passion in me.
And then I remember once I got down to I was looking through press a professor and I got to a page that said, regeneration, and it kind of like lit my my head on because regeneration is like oh, it's like a superpower. That almost right? It doesn't even sound like it's really like a real thing. But the more I read about it, the more incredible it is. And so that's how I got connected to that.
And I reached out to the professor, Dr. Malcolm Maden, one of my, probably one of the most influential individuals I've ever met in my life, if not the most, most influential given what I'm gonna dedicate my life to doing now. But he was incredible mentor. He studied regeneration, biology and blue healing. And like these incredible regenerative organisms, one of which was called the African spiny mouse, which is this mouse that's able to regenerate after damage, so you can cut it skin and it won't scar on like humans, we scar, this mouse doesn't scar beyond the skin. It's like brain, spinal cord, the heart, the kidneys all over the body. This has a increased regenerative capacity. So that was just absolutely incredible to me. Still today, I still find it really incredible. And I get really excited just talking about it. My first introduction to research, I have a couple other research experiences that I think we're going to mention that I can mention later on the podcast. But that was really the first time that I joined the lab. And it was a really, really, really great experience. I research them.
Venkat Raman 17:45
So awesome stories. Great story.
Venkat Raman 17:50
Yeah, so tell us your journey through different research topics. While you were at UF, before we're gonna jump into the Goldwater Scholarship.
O Sure.So, Ree.., I started working in Dr. Maden's lab, I actually used that I, as I said, I started in the summer on at UF. So I used that summer to try to find a research mentor. And then when the fall came around, that's when I started working in the lab in the fall of my freshman year. We actually ended up working together for all four years of my undergrad. And after I graduated undergrad, I also worked with him for my master's thesis at the University of Cambridge. And I can talk more about how that's linked as well.
But I saw I spent a lot of time studying, working in Malcolm's lab doing research on the African spiny mouse. I did projects in skin regeneration, muscle regeneration, spinal cord regeneration helped a little bit with some brain, brain and some heart regeneration projects as well. And so I spent that was what I would do during like the fall in the spring semesters.
And as I went along, so my freshman year, I was probably doing eight to 12 hours a week in the lab. But then by the time I was a senior I kind of just built on that. And if I was a senior is probably doing like 30-35 hours in the lab a week. And yes, and it's not. And it's not because I was being forced to anything. That's literally just because I got more interested in it. And the more I learned, the more I was able to do in the lab at the very beginning.
It was pretty rough because the I just don't know anything you don't know what anything means. You don't know how anything works. You don't know where you live. So you're very, you're very dependent upon your mentors. So Malcolm was a great mentor to me. And there was also a postdoc in the lab, Dr. Jason Brandt. He was incredible mentor as well. So really, it's it's the mentors that I was paired with and I was fortunate enough to meet that made my experience great. I know some people who have had not so great experiences in the lab, and I hope that doesn't scare them away or make them not want to work in research because just one bad experience should Didn't sway you away from from doing laboratory research. But I will say that I was very, very fortunate enough to not have had a bad experience. And it was really, really incredible experience actually. And so that's what I did during the fall and the spring of the academic year. And then during the summers, I actually worked in a different lab at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the lab of Dr. Jessica whited, working on a similar problem. So limb regeneration and the Axolotl Salamander, this is really cool amphibian, where you can cut the arms off, and they'll grow perfectly again, something like that sounds like it's straight out of your science fiction. But it's real. And it's really, really cool. And the idea behind that was, I wanted to work in a lab over the summer. So that was a different situation, get a different experience, because I think having varied experiences always helps. I think I've mentioned that a little bit already. Yeah, I didn't want to completely switch fields, because I didn't want to have to, like start from ground zero and not know anything. The summer internships are just so short, that you don't have the time to completely learn something brand new. But I also didn't want to do the exact same thing. So that's kind of why I chose like a different but separate fields of research where I was able to bring in some skills that I learned at UF and then also learned some new skills during my time at Harvard. And then also second lab I worked in and then the third lab I've worked in so far, was after I graduated on my Marshall scholarship.
Venkat Raman 21:29
So what do you think? Or what kind of impact you think all this research has had on you during your undergraduate years? How did it? How did it sort of complement your classwork? Or did you think this was a new dimension? How do you think about this?
So I like to say that research really brought science to life for me. So like, when I was learning science in high school, I enjoyed it, because it was cool to read about other people's experiences and the experiments that they did. But rather than reading about somebody's like, so I like to compare it to tennis, it's, I think it's a lot more fun to play tennis than to watch tennis not to say that I don't love watching. But to do it yourself, right, like getting your hands dirty, getting in the mud doing yourself. So that's really the dimension of added for me, like, instead of learning for the sake of learning, when I was taking biology classes, I began to learn. So I could apply these new concepts to my own work and solve the problems that I was trying to address in the lab. And the way I kind of tried to approach research every day was it's sort of like this big puzzle or a game, like almost, you're almost like a detective trying to find clues and doing different things to try to figure out pieces of information that would help you get to your answer. And so I start to serve the C classes not as Oh, I'm gonna go to this class, memorize this information, regurgitate it, try to get an A, I've started to be like, I would go to this class, learn as much as possible, I could, and then try to apply that to my own work and see the parallels and see what I could learn. And then that would add to the work I was doing in the lab. And that was a lot more fulfilling. And I was able to be a lot more engaged in the classes because I was doing research. And after that, even when I started reading more research papers, initially, when I read research papers, when I was like a freshman, just trying to find a lab, I didn't know what anything was, anything was going on, it was like reading almost a different language, even these terms, all the words, just thought words that you use, like everyday life. But after like being involved in research, I was able to like better analyze the papers, I was able to like, critique the papers, even see what they could have done differently. And then learn from the papers and see what I could do differently or get ideas and understand why scientists did stuff in a certain way and then integrate that into my own work. So it became a lot more involved. Instead of just reading about science, I was actually doing the science, and that I think had a lot of synergy with what I was doing in the classroom as well.
Venkat Raman 23:55
Now that's that's, that's awesome. Now, did writing become a big part of that as well, one of the things I've heard a lot of researchers talk about is how writing is super critical to this whole?
Aaron S 24:07
Oh, yes, writing is very, very important. Because I think a problem that I've noticed in science is that you can be a fantastic scientist. But if you can't communicate your ideas, well, then it's going to be very hard to get grants or to share your findings. So actually, what I learned was, and it's not just writing, it's also presenting your work. I found I learned over time, that the best way, or at least in my experience, the best way to present my findings, my scientific findings is to do it in a narrative form, kind of like story, because, like humans love stories, right? Like we're interested in hearing stories. Nobody wants to go to a lecture and just hear a bunch of facts. So I've never, if I'm giving a presentation or if I'm writing a paper, I try not to just like throw down the facts even though the facts are like the meat and potatoes. You either really like a structure and a skeleton and sort of you need to guide the reader along the journey with you And the ups and the downs and make it really interesting. So by the end of the paper, it doesn't feel like they've read a scientific paper so much as they read a story with scientific facts and new knowledge built in. And that's something really I don't think I would have learned how not to research. And now that I have done gone through that experience, when I'm reading papers, I really do notice when they do a good job of reading a compelling narrative and making you care almost like how, like a book or a TV show, they'll leave you on a cliffhanger almost wanting more. Yeah, I think that's the best way to write a scientific paper, like really giving them making the reader care about what you're talking about. Because a lot of times, to be honest, research becomes so so specific and narrow, that it's very easy to, to say at the end of it, Oh, who cares? Why does this matter? So always conceptualizing it and making the reader care about what you're writing about, I think is a very important skill that I wouldn't have learned, had I not done a lot of scientific writing and presenting as well.
Venkat Raman 26:02
Okay, so let's talk about the Goldwater Scholarship. How did that come about?
Sure. So like I said, I hit the ground running pretty early with undergraduate research my freshman year. And one thing that I'll recommend to all your listeners and to anybody is, if you're going to do undergraduate research, definitely try to go to conferences, and try and present your work try to they're great ways to make connections, meet other people. And that's actually how I learned about the Goldwater Scholarship. Initially, I was presenting at a conference, I believe, at Harvard College, my freshman year, and an upperclassman who came to my posterior we were talking and then when she found out that I was a freshman, she told me to look out for what's called the Goldwater Scholarship. And it's a scholarship for funding the next generation of leaders in scientific engineering, mathematical research. And she said that I might be a good candidate for it, because I'd gotten gotten involved in research. So early on, you can apply for the Goldwater Scholarship either as a sophomore or a junior, the majority of students win it as a junior just because it's hard. A lot of the times you'd have to get experienced as a freshman to have a chance of winning it as a sophomore. But luckily, I had started early. So that was actually something that was possible to me. So once I heard about that, from a conference, I went to I came back to the University of Florida, I talked to my there's a fellowship advising office at UF. They helped me up budget, and I was fortunate enough to win the scholarship. And it was incredible for me.
Venkat Raman 27:39
So two things. What is the process? Like? How did you feel about that? And then what kind of difference has it made
Sure that the process itself was actually extremely valuable, because I feel like it prepared me really well to apply for grad school med school applications. The personal statement is similar to other personal statements, like the essays are really getting to the core of why you're doing what you're doing. And what you see yourself doing in the future. And how we've done in the past, is supporting that and what you plan to do in order to get to where you want to go. And I think that's like the central tenet of most of these applications. So that whole experience where I had to like look within a lot of introspection, where I thought deeply about, like what I wanted to do, why I was doing what I was doing, why it mattered. I think that was super, super important for me.
And then and also, another unique aspect of the Goldwater Scholarship application is that you write about your research, and you write about a project you have done or potentially a project that you will do, I'll read about a project that I had done. And you really want to write it in such a way that you're not being super, super technical, because often the reviewers of the scholarship aren't going to be exactly in your field like so when you write a scientific paper, the reviewers are often experts, experts in your field. Whereas for the Goldwater Scholarship application they might have, for example, my viewers might be a biology backgrounds, but they might not have regeneration, biology backgrounds. That's a different that's another different way of about knowing your audience when you're writing or when you're presenting, knowing. You need to give enough information so that they understand what what you're explaining. And they understand why it's important. And I think that it was basically like applying for a grant the school, the school water essay. And I think that was a super, super valuable experience as well, because at that point in time, I hadn't had too much experience with scientific writing. So that was also really valuable. So just in general, the applicants self disregarded the award. Like if I hadn't won the award, I think the application process itself would have been very, very valuable. And I think your second question was, How did what was how did the scholarship make a difference? Is that what you say? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So first and foremost, it really gave me confidence in my own abilities. I and I think a lot of my peers in academia that struggle with impostor syndrome, sometimes we're not good enough.
And honestly, I'll be honest with you, I didn't think I was going to win it when I applied and I Don't apply as well. So that's one thing that it really gave me a lot of confidence accountabilities and showed me like maybe that maybe I can be a scientist. I'm not just a fraud. But that's that was one thing. But then also, once I became a Goldwater scholar, I realized that there's a whole Goldwater Scholarship has been around for many, many years. Actually, a lot of the early Goldwater scholars are now professors in their own right. A lot of scientists and industry, a lot of people who've gone to incredible things were Goldwater scholars. So I was really hoping to connect with these other scholars, for networking purposes, just to meet other especially my peers who were like minded, like me, who were really, really interested in research. But then I realized that there was not really a network or mode of communication setup. And what actually ended up happening was, I happened to go to an undergraduate research conference, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research 2018, a couple of months.
Yeah, I think a month after I won the Goldwater Scholarship, and this, this, this goes more to the more to the point of, you really want to go to these conferences, because they opened up a lot of doors for the people you meet. But serendipitously, I met Dr. John Mateja, ha, the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation, we met at the conference, because he was giving a talk on the Goldwater Scholarship, and I had just won it. So I went up to him after his talk. And I introduced myself. And I proposed my idea for potentially creating a way to connect scholars past and present with one another because nothing like that existed at the time. And yet he was actually really receptive to the idea. And he said, he actually was also interested in hearing more about me, which I think was really touching, because he got he actually asked me when I was doing my oral presentation at the conference, because I was giving a talk at the conference. And he actually said, what time you're giving the talk. I'll come and watch it. So he actually came to my, my talk last time, even asked him questions about regeneration biology, and he has no background in regeneration biology. He's like a nuclear physicist. So that was really, really touching. But after the talk, and after we after he asked me questions afterwards, we talked more, and he said, let's keep in touch. And we may be trying to build something out. And we recruited two other 2018, Goldwater scholars the same class as me, who are both sophomores as well. Yeah. And then we all work together to build up what's now called the Goldwater scholar community. And then, that has boomed into a huge, a huge community of scholars for many years, scholars who had won the scholarship, like before I was even born, which I think is an incredible slack off form. And lead to like in person meetings at informational webinars, diversity initiatives, social justice movements, like a lot of things came out of that one community of just bringing these people together. And I've personally benefited a ton from it, because I have a really, really close friends that I would have never otherwise met friends from, like, all over the country that I wouldn't have otherwise met had it not been for the Goldwater Scholarship community. And so I've actually taken more of a step back now, me and the other founders, initial founders would kind of pass the torch on to some of the more recent scholars, and they really took taking the initiative and really run with it. And I'm still involved, I still try to stay as involved as possible with some of the events that they put on, but it's really become something bigger than I could have ever imagined.
Venkat Raman 33:23
You know, you said you, you obviously picked biology, it seemed like a natural thing for you to do. Was there any question or discussion about it in your mind? Or is that something that was pretty straightforward?
Well, for me, I was pretty set on it. I did in the beginning, I did explore other majors potentially something like engineering. But I thought biology was a good fit for me, because it's broad enough that I can still kind of customize my own path. But then, I guess narrow enough that I had an idea of what I wanted to do. So I really didn't waver too much from biology, I definitely have a lot of friends who switched majors multiple times, and they had a ton of success. But for me, I'm sort of the type where I'll have a goal in mind and sort of just lock onto it and not really waver too much. My ideals with biology was definitely changed throughout the four years I was there. And by the end of my undergraduate time, I was taking courses that I didn't even realize were available when I started. So I went in with a pretty open mind, but I knew biology, broadly speaking, was where I want to stay.
Venkat Raman 34:42
So while you were at UF, how involved were you on campus? What kind of activities did you engage in beyond research? Did you get a lot of time to do anything?
Yeah, so I got really I was very, very involved as an undergraduate and that list of stuff, I'll try to hit the highlights so you can stop me if I start ranting. But I was.
Initially I got pretty involved with the US Center for Undergraduate Research, where I help other students find research opportunities on campus. So this was a couple of semesters after I'd started researching myself. I also spent a lot of time with the US American physician sights Association, and I ended up becoming the president of this organization, which is aimed at students who are interested in pursuing careers combining research and medicine, which is what I'm interested in.
I ended up also working with the US center for Regenerative Medicine, which was just founded actually, when I was, I think, a sophomore. And we I helped to create two novel undergraduate courses in regenerative medicine at the University of Florida. And the impetus behind this was that after my first as an intern at Harvard, Harvard actually had a whole major dedicated to regeneration biology, I believe it's called human developmental and gender biology. When I came back to UF, I realized there weren't any undergraduate courses in regenerative medicine. So I actually reached out to the newly founded UF center for Regenerative Medicine. And we work together to create two novel courses in regenerative medicine. And I also helped design to get program and gender medicine. So I was able to benefit from those classes and the certificate, but also it's still ongoing. And actually, we just recently had a paper accepted that details the construction design of this undergraduate program in regenerative medicine at UF. So that was something I was really, really passionate about.
I worked with the center director, Dr. Keith March, and he was a great mentor to me as well. I served as a TA for some courses. So I served a TA for animal physiology, with under Dr. Keith Chou. And that was an incredible experience teaching other students science, which is actually a lot more difficult than learning the science because knowing something and then being able to teach someone else that's like a different level of expertise. So that was a really, really great change. For me.
I also served as a TA for introduction to professions and medicine, which was like an intro course for pre med students. I spent a lot of time I spent less time playing tennis in college, but I spent a lot of time to coaching tennis to underserved youth in the Gainesville community through a program called aces in motion. And that was a lot of fun. And I did that for a couple years.
And I also spent a lot of, I think, four years at the with an organization called footprints, which was a PD, they volunteered with patients in the pediatric oncology ward of Shands hospital, so kids with cancer, and that was a really, really touching and moving experience with me, for me. And it really helped solidify my my desire to go into clinical medicine rather than just pure basic science research. And then beyond that, I also worked, I did a lot of like physician shadowing and some of the other pre med stuff. But those are some of the main big things that I did outside of the classroom.
Venkat Raman 37:55
But that's, that's amazing and impressive list. I mean, you. And then you said that in your senior years, you were doing 30-35 hours a week of research. So I'm guessing you didn't sleep a whole lot?
Venkat Raman 38:08
Oh, no, I think it's I think it's easy to do the things that you love, if you really enjoy them, right. So I didn't feel me doing work, like in the very sense that your sense of the word work. Yeah, I was doing. Yes, things I thought were fun. So it made it easy, but I was busy. That's true.
Venkat Raman 38:29
Let's talk about the Marshall scholarship. I mean, what prompted you to apply to that, and then what that meant, and what it has meant over the last couple of years?
Sure. So I applied for the Marshall scholarship. And for your viewers information. The Marshall Scholarship is a Postgraduate Scholarship for Americans to go study in the United Kingdom. And what's great about the Marshall, I think, in comparison to other UK fellowships, is that you can study anything, so any topic anywhere, so any university in the United Kingdom, and most people opt to do, you can either do one master's degree, two masters degrees at two different universities or a PhD, and it's fully funded. And so I opted to do two masters degrees. A big reason why I even applied for the martial to begin with is I wanted to more deeply explore some of my interests before I want to start in medical school. And specifically, I wanted to study stem cell biology because I had done a lot of work in regeneration biology, which is distinct but very related field. And I felt that stem cells were are really close to coming to the clinic and impacting clinical medicine. Whereas the findings from regeneration biology might take a couple more years because we're pretty far off from maybe cutting off a human's arm and regrowing it, but I think very, very already in the clinic. They're already using stem cells to treat to treat patients in clinical trials and another another cases. So that was a big thing for me. And I really wanted to learn how research is translated from the bench to bedside. So how does it go from a laboratory findings into a clinical therapy. So those were the two things I studied. First at Kent University of Cambridge, I was doing laboratory stem cell biology research. And then this year, this past year at King's College London, I took a course more business oriented career course and the commercialization translation of stem cell agenda therapies, from bench to market knows what it's called. And the second big reason aside from exploring my interest was, I really wanted to study in a different country, I didn't have the time to do a study abroad during college. And I really wanted to be immersed in a different culture a different way of life. Unfortunately, my first year was during the COVID pandemic. So I didn't get as much of the UK as I would have liked that first year. But luckily, I was doing two years in the UK. So my second year has been a lot, a lot more than normal now that the next is rolled out. And I've gotten a lot out of it a lot of personal growth, on top of the professional growth as a scientist that I've gotten out of the Marshall scholarship.
Venkat Raman 41:08
So tell us briefly tell us about medical school? Did you apply before went abroad? Or did you apply to med school in the last couple of years?
Sure. So um, there's two ways you can go about doing it. I had some friends who applied before we went abroad, and then they just deferred their acceptance while they were in the United Kingdom. But I did. The other other option, which is to apply while I was in the United Kingdom, and it worked out really well for me that all the interviews for medical school went online as a result of the pandemic. So I actually did have to fly back to the US all the time zones were a bit strange sometimes because of the the time differences. But other than that, it was actually very fortunate for me that I was able to apply from the United Kingdom, and do it that way. And really, the only reason I did it that way was because I wanted to, I wanted to have more time to study for the MCAT initially. So that's why I ended up applying later rather than before. I'm in the UK. But both options work just fine.
Venkat Raman 42:15
Fantastic. So yeah, so you're going to start at Harvard Medical. Awesome. And wish you all the best. And congratulations, of course on getting into Harvard Medical.
Venkat Raman 42:36
Okay, So Aaron, let's change gears a little bit and reflect on what high schoolers of today should be doing. If they want to pursue research in college. You said you didn't take advantage of doing any research while in high school? Maybe you didn't have that many avenues or not. But what do you think students should be doing today?
Sure. So I guess one thing that I would, if I could tell my younger self something is that try not to be shy. Don't be shy about cold emailing, or cold calling or cold contacting. When I say cold, I mean, like, there's no you have no connection to this person, you're just reaching out out of the blue. Do that for professors, even older students, I think I got a lot from older students who were a couple years ahead of me who had gone through the process. And they were able to, like mentor and guide me a lot. But initially, especially when I was like a freshman, or even in high school, I was a bit maybe anxious or afraid of reaching out to these individuals, because I was I was I was just afraid of them rejecting me. But honestly, the worst thing they can do is just like, ignore your email and just say like, No, I don't have time. But you need, you just need to like put yourself out there. Because if you don't do that, oftentimes, for the most part, opportunities aren't going to come to you. You need to be out there looking for opportunities. So definitely be proactive. Definitely make use of the internet, like everything's technically online as long as you try to go and find it. But you really need to be proactive. And don't expect things to be handed to you on a silver platter, you need to make opportunity for yourself.
Venkat Raman 44:19
Now, do you see any skills that you had or that you need to develop in high school? So that you can do good research? Or is that something that you can learn along the way?
Aaron S 44:33
I think you can learn anything you want to after you join a lab usually like as they're gonna expect you to come in as a blank slate. They don't expect you to really have any skills or knowledge like they know that you you don't know much in the beginning. So don't be too afraid of that. I think one soft skill that you should develop is not being afraid to ask questions, even if you think it'll make you look silly or stupid. ask me that question because that's something that in research, you're never going to know We're going to know everything, even the top researchers in the world don't like it. Otherwise, there's no point to doing research. You need to learn how to ask questions, not be shy about it. And when you don't know something, being upfront and honest about it, and not being embarrassed that you don't know something, because it's not really embarrassing to not know something, but I think it is detrimental when you don't know something, and you don't say anything about it. So even in your high school classes, I think that's something that I should have. It's hard sometimes when you're in a class of like, 50 people to raise your hand and put yourself out there a lot of times, and it just so happens to me sometimes when I'm in classes, the teacher will ask anyone have questions, if you will just look around, and no one will know what it is. And because no one wants to be about that guy or girl, right? But really needs to get over that, that stigma and you need to be able to put yourself out there and ask those questions. Because you don't ask questions you're never going to learn. And that's something that I had to develop when I was first working in a lab, learning that it's important to ask questions, and no one's ever going to think less of you because you ask the question. If anything, they're going to think better of you. Because you had the willingness and the enthusiasm to ask that question and the willingness to learn. I think that's an important thing to develop. More so than any technical skills or any knowledge, just a willingness to learn and put yourself out there and ask questions.
Venkat Raman 46:15
You know, one of the things that struck me about your story is that when you came to college, you said, you research the bio department's website and the professor's work. And regeneration really jumped out at you and that you jumped on it literally. And, and it has, it has, it has become something of great importance to you. Right? Yes, in terms of what you're doing. Now. It's amazing, that two things, right. One is that you found that thing that appealed to you, and it was the right thing, it seems I just wanted you to comment on that. I mean, it's so difficult finding something that you get passionate about, and that you can become good at. What do you think helped you? I know, there are no simple answers to these things. Just curious.
Yeah, so it's kind of, I will say, I got very, very lucky, um, I have a lot of friends who bounced around majors or basketball labs, whereas I was able to find something and sort of stick with it. So there is an element of luck to it, to be sure. But I can try to describe whenever I was looking through those different web pages, and I saw, like regeneration, I started reading about it, it's like, it went from reading papers, initially, like I said, was very difficult. And yeah, it's like, almost a chore to read papers. Because it's like, you don't have to, you have to look up every other word. And it's very, very difficult. Um, when it when I was reading the papers for this regeneration lab, I could feel my heart, like, start to beat faster, and I was getting excited. And I was actually spending my time reading the papers out of the curiosity, rather than out of to prepare for some sort of meeting or two. Does that make sense? Like I was doing it, because I was teaching it. And it reminded me of like, the an example like uses, you read some books, because you have to school like they're assigned readings, but then we read some books, because you just want to read these books for fun. And that's what you do in your downtime when you want to rely. That's more how I felt when I was reading these regeneration about this regeneration biology. It was more something that I was personally curious about something that really jumped out to me. And I felt like if I felt that way about this topic, I could spend hundreds and hundreds of hours exploring this field and not get bored or not feel like it was arduous or difficult. And that ended up becoming true. So I don't know why exactly. That was. I mean, even still, today, when I talk about regeneration, I think it's like the coolest thing ever. And that might just be because I'm a huge nerd. But I think it's more than that. Because when I see people about it, I feel like I'm able to get them excited as well. So I don't know that. It's just like a sort of feeling you get, I don't know if there's any like steps that I could have taken. Like, honestly, if I hadn't come across this lab, maybe my life would be very different. But whenever people ask me like what my greatest, like skill or asset was to contribute to some of the accomplishments I've made, I always go back to the fact that I'm able to be really, really interested in engaged because I wouldn't say that I'm like, the smartest or the most capable or the best scientists around. But I'm very, very interested in what I do. And I think that interest really drives me to keep going and go, especially through all the failures, which there's going to be a lot of research. Anyone will tell you that for sure. But it's actually more important, how you use the failures and how you grow from those failures. And if you really, really interested in what you do, it makes life 100 times easier. But yeah, it's hard to say like what what else stand out to you the best advice I can give that is look around like look, I don't know latch onto the first thing you see, which is the mistake I almost made. Enjoy the first time I saw, definitely try to be open minded. Definitely do a survey of what's available. And then make a decision after you've seen what's out there.
Venkat Raman 50:17
Yeah, and certainly the fact that fruit like a superpower,
Aaron S 50:21
you know, yeah, that helps that.
Venkat Raman 50:30
Okay, I'm beginning to wind down here. And I thought, if you have any interesting memory, from college, anything that you want to share about research or anything else, this would be a good time to do that.
Oh, sure, actually, so one thing that I, I don't think I mentioned during this interview, we talked a lot about science and like mindset and biology and research. But I didn't want to just be a basically a one trick pony or so to speak, I want to have a well rounded experience in the classroom. So my biology major and my research were all very hard sciences, it took a lot for my biology major and took like chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, all those hard sciences. So actually decided to minor in something called health disparities in society. And it really touches on the social aspects of medicine, such as like health, inequity, cultural competence, health literacy. And that really added a new dimension to my education. It was done by this fantastic professor named Dr. Laura Guyer. And that definitely changed me for the better, I became much less of a, I still consider myself a hard scientist, and a very, very, very rigorous researcher. But this added a new dimension. And also, it was another experience that helped solidify my desire to go towards clinical medicine. So I guess I'm just saying the story to say that you don't necessarily focus on one thing, it's to have a variety of experiences, I'm of the opinion that always getting different perspectives, meeting different people. I took a lot of humanities classes through for this minor, which I probably wouldn't have known about, otherwise, I probably would not have taken had it not been for me looking around and finding this minor. So I think it's really great to focus really well really hard on something like regeneration for me, but then also having things outside of that to supplement and not even just be something on the side. But something that really adds to an invigorates my main interest in science, because at the end of the day, what all research for what most researchers are doing this work for, especially in the biomedical field is to help people. And that was something that might that maybe gets lost a little bit if you're just working in a lab and you don't really see the patients, but then look, seeing the other side and seeing the ultimate impact that really helps motivate you to go back into the lab and keep working when you see the people that could potentially help.
Venkat Raman 53:02
Absolutely. So Aaron, this has been just wonderful, very inspiring, and very impressive. And I wish you all the luck as you start med school. And I will hopefully keep in touch and we'll talk more and continue the conversation but for right now. Take care be safe. I will talk to you soon. Likewise,
Aaron S 53:26
appreciate the opportunity. Have a good day.
Venkat Raman 53:30
You too. Bye
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Aaron Sandoval on his undergraduate journey and beyond.
Aaron’s love for the sciences, his passion for research and his drive to be a hard scientist gave him a deeper understanding of the disciplines.
His social awareness led him to minor in Health disparities in society.
He not only won the Goldwater Scholarship, but he showed leadership in organizing the past scholars into a support network to collaborate and support new scholars.
I hope you are inspired by Aaron’s love and drive to create knowledge.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
Till we meet again, take care and be safe.