High School Students, Rochester Institute of Technology, Finger Lakes Community College, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, US Colleges, College Admissions, College Applications, Red-Tailed Hawk"> Podcast | Elizabeth-Eill-How-Undergraduate-Research-Propelled-her-from-Community-College-to-a-PhD-e1g0or9

Podcast

Episode Notes | Episode Transcript | AskTheGuest

 Hi Fives (5 Highlights)   3-Minute Listen

Elizabeth Eill looks back at the role Undergraduate Research played in her College Experience. Elizabeth is a graduate of Finger Lakes Community College, Rochester Institute of Technology.

This podcast is a story of how Elizabeth’s love for Science found an outlet in Prof Hewlett’s BioTech Lab, and became a tool for educational growth.

It is fascinating to see how, as Elizabeth continued doing more research, her passion and interest in Biology grew deeper. How the Research built her confidence, self-esteem to pursue higher education. The role mentors played in her research career. Doing research, being responsible for creating new knowledge, really appealed to her.

Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:

  1. Overall Experience in Research
  2. High School Interests
  3. Red-Tailed Hawk 2.0
  4. Research-driven Transformation
  5. Advice for High Schoolers

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Elizabeth Eill: How Undergraduate Research Propelled her from Community College to a PhD.

Elizabeth says she wasn’t a very good student in high school. When time came for college, her family recommended that she attend the local Finger Lakes Community College. This would turn out to be a Life Changer. She met Prof James Hewlett and discovered undergraduate research in his BioTech lab.

Elizabeth received her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from State University of New York Upstate Medical University. She shares her amazing college journey in this podcast.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • Going to Finger Lakes Community College
  • Discovering UG Research at FLCC
  • Channeling Passion for Biology
  • Majoring in Biomedical Sciences
  • Advice to High Schoolers

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to Elizabeth Eill [0:50]
  • Hi Fives - Podcast Highlights [2:19]
  • Overall Experience in UG Research [5:00]
  • High School Interests [6:32]
  • Going to Finger Lakes [8:14]
  • The FLCC Program [10:40]
  • Prof. James Hewlett [13;37]
  • Red-Tailed Hawk 2.0 [14:40]
  • Research-driven Transformation [17:25]
  • Transition to Rochester Institute of Technology [19:59]
  • Peers and Classmates [22:38]
  • Campus Activities [24:24]
  • Research at RIT [25:52]
  • Summers [28:38]
  • Majoring in Biomedical Sciences [29:43]
  • Grad Program [31:11]
  • FLCC Impact on Career [34:06]
  • UG Redo [37:32]
  • Advice for High Schoolers [39:50]
  • Memories [45:01]

Our Guest: Elizabeth Eill graduated with an AS degree in Biotechnology from Finger Lakes Community College, NY, and then a Bachelor’s degree in BioMedical Sciences from Rochester Institute of Technology. Elizabeth then did her Master’s in Biological Sciences from SUNY Brockport and PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

Memorable Quote: “...if I was ever going to donate any money to any of the schools that I went to, it would be FLCC [Finger Lakes Community College]. Because they really had the biggest formative impact on my life.” Elizabeth Eill.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Liz E 0:14

We were doing gel electrophoresis. So we had to cast our own gels and run them and then we were going to image them on a UV light box and my lab partner who begged me to let him carry the gel to the reader. And I told him to leave it in the in the bin, so he didn't drop it because I have dropped them and dropped dozens of them since then. And he's less than a foot away from it and it slips out of his hand..

Venkat  0:50  [Introduction to Elizabeth Eill]

That is Elizabeth Eill, a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology with a Bachelor’s degree in BioMedical Sciences.

Hello! I am your host Venkat Raman.

Elizabeth loved Science in High School. But not much else.

Overall, by her own admission, in high school she wasn’t a very good student.

Her family and influencers recommended that she attend the local Finger Lakes Community College.

This would turn out to be a Life Changer for Elizabeth.

She worked in Prof James Hewlett’s BioTech lab on the Red-Tailed Hawk Project - 2.0 as she called it!

Research fueled her education career in ways she may not have dreamt.

By the time she was done, she had earned a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

Venkat Raman  1:56

Elizabeth  joins us on our podcast to tell us about how undergraduate research transformed & propelled her college experience.

Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives,  Five Highlights from the podcast:

Liz E  2:19  [Highlights - Hi Fives]

[Overall Experience in Research]

you know, you take classes, you you read things on the internet, you, you can kind of get an idea of what research is like, but you really can't appreciate it truly, until you're actually there at the bench doing something and being responsible for something.

[High School Interests]

I was told I was not a very good high school student. So you know, community college really was where I thought was best for me to go and where you know, my, you know, parents and other influences in my life thought it was best just to kind of, because I knew what I wanted to do. I just didn't really know if I was good enough to get in anywhere.

[Red-Tailed Hawk 2.0]

And I was, you know, working with a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. And I was doing a lot of the like, genetic, you know, kind of screening in the lab, you know, so it's actually really hilarious that I got involved in the red tail hawk product, because I'm terrified of birds. So whenever they would say, oh, you know, we can actually go into the field? And I said, No, thanks, I'll say.

 

[Research-driven Transformation]

Yeah, I mean, it was those were the best two years of college I ever had not. And I'd say that as somebody who was in college for 12 and a half years, those were the best two that I had. Those were the two that I had the biggest growth for myself academically, mentally, emotionally, those were the last two years.

[Advice for High Schoolers]

No, you are not who you are. In high school, you are a very different person at 15 than you are in 25 and 35, and 45. And your brain gets better as you get older. And you get more focused and more passionate about things as you get older. So not knowing what you want to do at 15 or 17 or 18. There is no crime in that.

Venkat Raman  4:14

These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Venkat Raman  4:25

Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast on Stanford with Elizabeth.

So without further ado, here is Elizabeth Eill!

----------------------

Venkat Raman  4:35  

[I] think you have a fascinating story. So let's jump right into it. So I thought maybe we could start with some general comments on undergraduate research and how that may have changed trajectory here, career trajectory. So maybe we could start with that and then we can then you know, weave our way through the story.

Liz E  5:00  [Overall Experience in UG Research]

Sounds good. Yeah. So, you know, I always knew I wanted to do some kind of science ever since I was in high school. So, you know, I preferentially picked, you know, programs that you know, had, you know, were very science heavy, I ended up going into like, more of like a biotechnology, you know, kind of fields. But as far as you know, the undergraduate research, I mean, that was one of the biggest pivotal moments in my life. And I say that not just because it pushed me into research and keeping on that trajectory. It also I saw, you know, several friends of mine who said, you know, research really isn't for me, and it actually helped me solidify the fact that I wanted to do research that I enjoyed it so much. And that ended up being a pretty polarizing you know, aspect of my life. And, you know, learning because, you know, he's you take classes, you you read things on the internet, you, you can kind of get an idea of what research is like, but you really can't appreciate it truly, until you're actually there at the bench, doing something and being responsible for something. And that really, that really was an incredibly eye opening experience for me for sure.

Venkat Raman  6:19  

So maybe we can start a little bit with high school. You said you were kind of more into science. So tell us a little bit about what you were like in high school, and then we can talk about Fingerlakes

Liz E  6:32  [High School Interests]

High school was a very interesting time in my life. I will confess I was not a very good students. I had classes I liked classes, I didn't like classes I liked I did extremely well in classes. I didn't I was lucky if I pulled a C in. So humble beginnings are certain certainly certainly where my life started. You know, I did very well in science courses, biology, chemistry, even physics, microbiology, I took every science course I could get my hands on, it was the only thing that I ever other than English, actually, were the only things that I really enjoyed taking and did and always did very well. But I was barely a B student, and I had to work really hard to even get that overall B average. So, you know, I was told I was not a very good high school student. So you know, community college really was where I thought was best for me to go and where, you know, my, you know, parents and other influences in my life thought it was best just to kind of because I knew what I wanted to do. I just didn't really know if I was good enough to get in anywhere. And it was a great decision for me personally.

Venkat Raman  7:47  

When you went to Finger Lakes, you had I mean, at least a plan was to do a two year and then transfer over to a four year program. Was that kind of in your mind? Is that what you're trying to do? Okay, yes. Okay.

Venkat Raman  8:06  

Okay, so tell us a little bit about Finger Lakes. What, what, what actually happened there that changed things for you.

Liz E  8:14  [Going to Finger Lakes]

Yeah, so it was really interesting. The summer before I started, so right after I had graduated from high school, and right before I was going to start at FLCC. I was in the academic office, and they had all these brochures for all these different degree programs. And I pick up this pamphlet, and it says biotechnology and my father who was there with me that day, I turned to him and I said, Do you know what biotechnology is? And he said, I have no idea. So I looked on this pamphlet. And it said that the director or some you know, verbiage similar to that was this guy, James Hewlett. And he and there was an office number, you know, and I said, Oh, well, I wonder if he's here. I said, you know, the campus is kind of open. I said, Maybe we should just go up and see if he's there because I had no idea what biotechnology was. He probably doesn't even remember that. That was the first time him and I met but, uh, yeah, so he. So I went to his office, and my dad waited on a chair outside and I had maybe a five or 10 minute conversation with him because he was had had, you know, someplace else he had to be as well. And he kind of explained it to me, and I said, Okay, that sounds cool. You know, a little bit of research a couple, you know, a couple of other cool courses to take and, and yeah, so that's how I landed on the degree program. You know, Finger Lakes was very close to where I grew up. I grew up right right in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. So it really was the only school I have, you know, the only community college I had applied to and had a desire to go to so so that's how I kind of landed in biotechnology and boy was it a it was a crash course in a lot of things. I did not know and but yeah, That was that was that was the first time I had ever heard the word biotechnology. It's pretty crazy because it's, uh, you know, on everybody's tongue these days, especially in the science community so.

Venkat Raman  10:11  

So, so So you joined the program. So then what happened?

Liz E  10:24  

So you mean, like in terms of how I did when I was there and what I was doing.

Venkat Raman  10:29  

I mean, you know, tell us tell us a little bit about, you know, the coursework, but more the research or you know, what you have to do and how all that went, give us a feel for that.

Liz E  10:40  [The FLCC Program]

So the Biotechnology program that they offered, at least back then, because they were talking, you know, 15 years ago, now, their program was was pretty intensive, I mean, you needed to take, you know, at least 18 credit hours per semester to finish the program in two years, there were classes like basic biology, you know, basic biology, chemistry, a lot of people took organic chemistry and myself included, there was also a cell biology requirements, as well as some really cool lab based classes, like there was one in bacteriological methods, which you learned about different different plates and things like that. And there are some other ones out, you know, culture of mammalian cells, I think, was the title of another one. So you learned how to do you know, sterile, sterile tissue culture, mammalian cell culture. And I found those really, really fascinating and really interesting. And, you know, because that, to me felt more true to what was, you know, like, people in the lab, were actually doing it, like I knew people who were, you know, they were gonna grow cells in the lab, and they needed to learn how to do tissue culture in order to do that. And some of them were a little brutal, like, I kind of vaguely remember, the cell culture class, where if our culture's got contaminated, we had to start all over from the beginning. And I remember talking to a couple of my other friends, there was only six of us in the entire biotechnology program that year. And I remember talking to a few of them, and we were on purpose. Because of the, because of the requirement of that, but we all did really good. And it was, it was, it was really good. Having that small group setting is where I thrive. And to this day, you know, I work at a smaller company, and it that really is where where I thrive, even 15 years later. So, you know, there were some tough, tough classes, I will confess, I'm not very good at chemistry, I can squeak by but that is not not my, not my forte. You know, cell biology was also, you know, a tougher course, one of the other cool things I got to do while I was at Finger Lakes is I was in the biology prep lab. So I had a little work study, and I would get to help set up the biology labs, you know, for for several different purposes. So that was also cool, because that was also, you know, kind of the behind the scenes on that fun part of being in the lab, right, washing dishes and calibrating instruments and things like that, but it all kind of played into the package. And all those experiences really just set in that like, yeah, I want to do research I want to have this is the type of life that I want to have, you know, career wise. And so it definitely was, was a little bit of a challenge. But you know, I feel like I did well, and that was very, very formative for me.

Venkat Raman  13:30  

So, tell me a little bit about Professor Hewlett. I mean, did you have a lot of interactions with him? How was that?

Liz E  13:37  [Prof. James Hewlett]

Oh, constantly, you know, I probably even daily, you know, he there were classes that he specifically taught, but, you know, being the, you know, kind of the director of the biotechnology program, and also kind of spearheading all of the undergraduate research. You know, the dope, I should say, the one undergraduate research class that they had back that I expanded dramatically since then. But, you know, yeah, so I interacted with him a lot. And, you know, we, we became became good friends over the years. And I've participated in some other things for him over the years to and, you know, and then taking that that research methods class that they that they offered back then, which was the collaboration that they had with RMIT, the program that I the the research project that I was involved in. So that's kind of how I got involved in that.

Venkat Raman  14:32  

Were you, Were you part of the original Red-Tailed Hawk project, or did you get involved in that or not?

Liz E  14:40  [Red-Tailed Hawk 2.0]

Yeah, I was actually I was involved in the Red-Tailed Hawk project. So I like to kind of consider myself and kind of like generation 2.0 as part of the Red-Tailed hawk project goes. Simply because there was a lot of work that had already been done by other students kind of before. You know, the basis of his, you know, undergraduate research initiative really started there.

Were Some people who were really influential in that, for myself, you know, I was, you know, working with a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. And I was doing a lot of the like, genetic, you know, kind of screening in the lab, you know, so it's actually really hilarious that I got involved in the red tailed hawk product, because I'm terrified of birds. So whenever they would say, oh, you know, we can actually go into the field. And I said, No, thanks, I'll stay in. So it's really funny how that how that ended up working out, too.

But that was a really cool project, because that actually was what pushed me to end up going to RIT, at the end of the day, too, because I already had a connection there. And I had a guaranteed spot in that land, graduate research and the mentor I had there was also phenomenal. So it was, it was a pretty seamless transition, honestly.

Venkat Raman  15:55  

Now, I have actually two questions. One is, the gene test was already I mean, they had already developed that as sort of a 1.0 version of that for the, you know, to determine the sex of the bird, based on the blood sample, was that already done when you join the lab?

Liz E  16:13  

So a lot of that work had had already been done, the genetic screening that I was mostly doing was involved with looking for, you know, mutations, and and these polymorphisms that may actually help delineate where the birds are actually coming from. So if there's like the this, these isolated pockets of, you know, maybe the birds that are coming from Michigan, tend to have these alleles or these polymorphisms. And can we determine where the birds are migrating to, based on their genetic profiling, again, from, from from similar blood samples?

Venkat Raman  16:47  

Well, one thing before we move on to RIT. I kind of wanted to, if you could capture and maybe some words, what you think, was the transformation that took place for you? I mean, you mentioned that you were always always interested in science, good in science, especially biology. What was it? What was that you think, from the research point of view? Or the research that you did, that helped you sort of catapult you out of that into some, so that you ended up actually getting a PhD? At some point?

Liz E  17:25  [Research-driven Transformation]

Yeah, that's, that's a, that's, that's as a very big, big topic of my life. You know, I, when I entered college, you know, I was 17, I couldn't even legally drive after 9pm. You know, I was I was a kid. And those two years, I was able to, you know, prove to people that, you know, like, yeah, community college, if you put in the work, you're gonna, you're gonna get something really good and meaningful out of it. And that if you really push for the things that you want, and be honest with yourself, do you really like something, do you not like something, and and try to foster what you're already good at, with what you enjoy doing.

And having that, you know, as I mentioned before, having a class teach you about research is fine. But until you're at the bench, I like working with my hands. And I like being able to use my brain and solve problems. And that really was the first taste of it that I had. And I enjoyed every research project I've had since then.

So you know, that also was the reason that I, you know, ended up going in a more research heavy track, as opposed to, like, let's say, a teaching track or something like that, you know, I knew I wanted to be at the bench. And to be told, I didn't understand half of what I was doing a project like that. I explained it so much, in hindsight, having 15 more years under my belt of research, you know, I can really explain that. And I really, truly understand what we were doing in hindsight.

But yeah, I mean, it was those were the best two years of college I ever had. And I'd say that as somebody who was in college for 12 and a half years, those were the best two that I had. Those were the two that I had the biggest growth for myself academically, mentally, emotionally, those were the last two years and I always said that if I, if I was ever going to donate any money to any of the schools that I went to, it would it would be FLCC because they really had the biggest formative impact on my life. Wow. That's pretty high. I truly mean that I'm really not even trying to sugarcoat that that's something that I have felt very strongly about that for a long time.

Venkat Raman  19:36  

Okay, so let's move on a bit. And then so you said you transitioned to Rochester Institute of, RIT. And so what what is it, What was that like? And give us a feel for, I just want to talk about your experience there.

Liz E  19:59  [Transition to Rochester Institute of Technology]

It was night and day difference, I'll tell you that that first, you know, they I remember at orientation them telling us Oh, you know, the first, you know, we were on the quarter system there. So the first quarter is usually the toughest transition for Trent, you know, for transfer students, because it is a big difference from community college. And it was certainly the pace was a lot faster, trying to balance you know, working in the lab and doing coursework and things like that, and, and also a longer commute for myself, because I also, you know, commuted when I went to RMIT. And it was a really, really big transition in it really did take me that first quarter, maybe even two quarters to really feel like I was comfortable. There, I also had a great experience there. So you know, the the transition was tough for sure. But it really gave me a better taste of what you know, like a four year college is like, and they were very welcoming, like our it was really good to transfer students. They had a really good easy as far as like academically and getting your coursework and things like that those were all very seamless. It was the, you know, mental impact to that was the hardest part to overcome.

Venkat Raman  21:16  

So, so what did you find was the big difference from a two year to four year. I mean, what at the end of the day were the differences?

Liz E  21:27  

The pace, and the pressure, really, were the two biggest things the pace as fat was faster, I don't know if that's simply because we're on the quarter system. So instead of having a 15 week semester, for some classes, you only have 10 weeks, so they do tend to cover a little bit less, but the pace tends to be really, really fast. And the you know, the pressure of oh, well, now I'm at a four year college and, you know, there's a little more, it's, you know, it's the stakes are higher, essentially, in hindsight, that was probably not the case at all, that was probably just a lot of my, you know, early adult life anxiety coming through, but, you know, there, it does take a good amount of transition and some some people transitions right away and had no problem others like myself, you know, it took a little bit to, to really get comfortable with with the differences, but those were really the two biggest hurdles for myself to overcome.

Venkat Raman  22:24  

Talk a little bit about your peers, and actually, how different or similar they were to the folks at FLCC, your peers there?

Liz E  22:38  [Peers and Classmates]

Yeah, I mean, you know, part of the reason I got accepted to several colleges after FLCC and I visited each one of them. And when I was at RIT, it more felt like those were my people, you know, where the pressure wasn't coming from anybody but myself, you know, and, you know, so I felt this intense, you know, pressure to, like, do well and to succeed and, but it was all coming from me, you know, we don't we didn't have these, you know, that there was no like major egos or anything like that. And most of my peers were the same. And actually, several of us ended up transferring from from, from that six person pro biotech program at Finger Lakes a, several of us actually transferred to RIT at the same time, so a lot of us were in the same classes and tried to coordinate with the same classes and that made the transition really a lot easier and a lot more fun to some of them I'm even still in contact with today. So it's, it's kind of cool to see what everybody's up to. But the as far as the you know, people outside of our bubble, you know, I didn't really notice too many differences other than RMIT at the time had like a, like a five to one ratio of, you know, males to females. So I just felt like there was a lot of people on campus it's very, very big campus and but a lot of the classes were still the same size you know, 20-30 people some bigger but a lot of them were you know, kind of the same and I had great professors but yeah, that was I there wasn't a huge difference in the actual people and from from what I observed

Venkat Raman  24:16  

So were there any campus activities that you were involved in? Or you pretty much had academics and research?

Liz E  24:24  [Campus Activities]

Yeah, so um, the RIT has a lot of like fun things for for students and it's not separated by commuters versus the students who lived on campus. So anything that was that was going on anybody could go to the the I'm trying to think of what the college of biology was called at this time but because I think it's changed name since then but the the kind of school of science have put on these these fun things like liquid nitrogen ice cream parties and pizza parties and, and all kinds of and I tried to hit every single one of those that I could because I wanted to, you know, make friends and be kind of enmeshed in that. I was also on our it is bowling team, we had a women's bowling Oh, and yeah, I had I had a short brief life as a as a as a bowler back then it was fun, you know, it was a lot of late nights because you know, they would, you know, basically the alley would like shut down at like 10 o'clock and then we can go in and practice. So it was a lot of like late nights and a lot of long drives. And so those are the big like extracurriculars I also had to on campus jobs. So one of which was in human resources that I had my first year and then I got a job in the biology department my second year, which was a lot of fun.

Venkat Raman  25:46  

So what was the research like at RIT? What What kind of stuff did you do there?

Liz E  25:52  [Research at RIT]

I was doing the exact same thing that I was doing at Finger Lakes. So that already when that, yeah, when that, um, when that research course, offered at Finger Lakes, they had, essentially like other professors that they were working with. And what the project that I picked the red tail hawk project, there was a contact at RIT. This guy, Larry Buckley, who I actually think might be the chair of, of biology now. Which he, if he's, if he's ever listens to this, I think You totally deserve it. He was a good guy, and the head of the lab, and the biggest difference really was I was more on my own. So I had already learned how to do a lot of things. And I could kind of make my own schedule, which was kind of fun. Because if I didn't have classes for an afternoon, I could spend the whole afternoon in the lab, there was other times where I couldn't go to the lab for two weeks, because I had I had exams or I had, you know, end of semester projects to work on or other things going on. So the the research project was exactly the same, but it was more. I was, I guess more on my own time. And I could kind of choose to learn other things if I wanted to. I learned some other cool computer programs and, and sequencing machines and things like that. But the probe, the research was the same. It just got more responsibilities.

Venkat Raman  27:16  

So was UG research big at RIT? I mean, I know that you had the history. So you continued. Do students typically do that? I mean, say biology students.

Liz E  27:28  

There every lab that had an opening had, like every lab that was doing research was full. Any students love to be in research that I know when a lot of people you know, they think alrighty, they don't necessarily think scientific research. But there's a lot of different things, everything from microbiology, to chemistry to physics, and there's an even now there's a lot of cool research coming out of it. So they try to push for you to get involved in as much as you can. Even if it's not at the campus sometime, you know, they have those, you know, summer undergraduate research programs that they have at other universities and things like that. So a lot of students participated in that, especially the ones who are research heavy, the ones who wanted to go into REIT and into some kind of research people who wanted to get masters PhDs, things like that. So a lot of my circle, they were all in different labs.

Venkat Raman  28:21  

That's great to hear. I mean, I just wanted to know whether this was you? Or was it? Was it sort of the system? So yeah.

Venkat Raman  28:31  

What did you do during the summers? Did you continue research? Or did you go out and get internships? Or what kind of stuff did you do?

Liz E  28:38  [Summers]

The summer, so I didn't do any of the like typical, you know, go to another university and spend 10 weeks there doing research. So I basically stayed in the same lab over the summer. And like I mentioned, I also had an on campus job. And during the summers, they actually paid for me to work full time, which basically, I also had a couple of hours every day to go to the lab and do whatever I needed to do over there as well. Most of the university tends to shut down in the summer. Some labs do stay open, depending on what what research is going on. So I got lucky that I was in a lab that did do some things over the summer then. But yeah, I didn't do any of those like typical ones that that that students do, where they go to other universities and do these like intensive programs.

Venkat Raman  29:29  

When you came to RIT, did you already I guess you had already decided that you were going to do Bio as a major right. I mean, it was already that some Is that something that you decided once you got there?

Liz E  29:43  [Majoring in Biomedical Sciences]

So you thought Yeah, so that's actually an interesting question and an interesting story. So Finger Lakes has an agreement with RIT. At least they did back then where they called like a two plus two. So you did two years of community college in Biotechnology. And then if you had a three point Oh GPA or 3.5, you're automatically essentially accepted into the biotechnology program at RIT. So for me, the Biotechnology program at RIT was very restrictive. So there was you, you didn't have any flexibility and what classes you could take. Well, there was other things that I was interested in. So I ended up applying and going into their equivalent of a pre med program, which they call biomedical sciences. And it gave me a little bit more flexibility, I still took most of the same Biotechnology classes that everybody else was taking, I just was able to have a little bit more flexibility to take some other science based courses that I was interested in. So that's that's the only really difference there. So it was a little bit of a different application process. But I was still taking most of the same bio classes at the biotechnology majors where I just didn't have as restrictive of a schedule.

Venkat Raman  30:57  

As you were getting ready to graduate. Did you think about going off into industry and working? Or were you pretty much set on a graduate program?

Liz E  31:11  [Grad Program]

I actually had a  job offer from Bausch and Lomb back then, to go into, into the into the lab and it paid nothing, as most, you know, fresh out of college jobs do. And actually I had a conversation with I mentioned somebody earlier, Larry Buckley, who was my advisor there, and I had a conversation with him. And I said, you know, I really feel like graduate school might be the right choice for me. But I'm just not really sure if I'm in a position to be competitive for a PhD program. And he recommended to me, he said, you know, you can always get a master's degree, and then do a PhD after if you want to, and if you don't, then you still have a master's degree. And more doors are open to you. And I stood on that for a couple of weeks. And then I applied to a bunch of master's programs, and I got accepted to a couple ended up picking one at, at a, at SUNY Brockport. And so that kind of, you know, obviously that paid nothing to, you know, but it still, but it just felt like the right, the right choice for me at the time. And I'm really glad I did, because that that also helped me push me to get into get into a PhD program after that point after my master's, I was much more competitive.

Venkat Raman  32:30  

Yeah, so was that was that a pretty slam dunk decision to go to a PhD after your masters?

Liz E  32:37  

Yeah, yeah, I definitely because it was in I really talked to a lot of people who are in the industry in the business, and ask them, you know, what did you do? You know, I, I've always believed that if somebody has a job that you think is really cool, and you want to do that, go ask them what they did, I've joked around with with, you know, Jim Hewlett for years that, you know, if he ever retires, I'm moving back to New York, I'm taking this job, just because I just think that he has the best. You know, might not be awesome all the time. But you know, he definitely definitely has a cool job of jumping around and bumped up. But, um, but yeah, so, yeah, that I really felt like after that point that I wanted to be able to essentially get paid, and do projects using my brain and my hands. And, you know, being at the, at the PhD level, you really valued for your input in different, you know, in the actual, you know, scientific thought process. And, yeah, that's, I've been to four different universities, if anybody's keeping tally listening to this. Sounds fun, interesting. It's been a wild ride.

Venkat Raman  33:51  

How do you think the Finger Lakes entered it, I guess, really have shaped your career. I mean, what what kind of impact do you think those two places have had? Or maybe it was entirely Fingerlakes that you think was the reason for where you are today?

Liz E  34:06  [FLCC Impact on Career]

You know, it really is the whole package. You know, it's you can't start climbing a ladder at the top, you know, you have to start at the bottom. And I've always kind of considered it like a pyramid, you know, so, you know, you know, Finger Lakes was kind of at the bottom, I was everything was kind of broad. I was getting my feelers for what type of even research that I wanted to do, because, you know, as we were talking about, I was doing mostly, you know, genetic, you know, genetics research, and now I'm in, you know, immunology virology field, and that's what my, my PhD is, and as well so, you know, it really is the whole package, you know, but I wouldn't have been able to get to the top of that pyramid, if it wasn't for everything below it. You know, so it's all it's all impactful. You know, I would say that each stage of my my life has had a more narrowing focus, you know, so at FLCC I knew I still wanted Did you do science? I knew I wanted to do research. Well, okay, so it alrighty now more on the medical side of it. So I was doing, you know, some taking more medical base classes and I said, Oh, you know what this is really I really like, you know human biology and I really liked studying, you know, the immune system and, and things like that. And then I did my master's degree and I was in a lab looking at Trypanosoma Brucei, which is the causative agent of African sleeping sickness. So that was more microbiology side of it. And that also helped kind of narrow my focus. And then when I got to graduate school, then I kind of knew what I wanted to do pretty much exactly. So it all kind of filters in into the, into one into the top of that pyramid. So, but like I said, I wouldn't, none of that would have been possible had I not started where I did, and been given the confidence to, you know, I really, as I mentioned, I was not a very good high school student, you know, so to be to, you know, have gone to community college, and, you know, there's already the stigma around community college, which I do not believe in at all whatsoever, and somebody who has been through it, and I believe that if you treat it like college, it will be college. And, you know, so a really gave me the confidence that I needed to say, you know, what, yeah, I can, I can do this, I can get a PhD. And, you know, Jim was there the whole time supporting me every step of the way. And, you know, having, you know, my, you know, Dr. Buckley, from our, it was very supportive and beyond just to have this this, you know, foundation to get, you know, to help build confidence on that, you know, well, somebody who has a PhD or has a master's has, you know, these advanced degrees thinks that I can do it too. You know, and I actually was I was accepted to Cornell after, after Finger Lakes. I didn't. That's a different story for a different day. But, you know, that's where I really wanted to go, I had my heart set on going to Cornell, and I got accepted. And there was just a lot of circumstances that, that ended up pushing me to alrighty, and I have no regrets. Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely zero regrets.

Venkat Raman  37:12  

So, that kind of leads me to the next question, which is, I know, I Oh, it's all worked out. Great. So if but if you were to redo this, what would you do differently? I mean, you know, just from a point of view of reflective thinking here, what would you change, if any, are? Well,

Liz E  37:32  [UG Redo]

yeah, I mean, of course, you know, it may, you know, everything always looks good on the outside, you know, but there was a lot, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, went into ... you know, clawing my way to where I am, and, you know, graduate school and in and of itself is a is a true test of your scientific faith, you know, it's a tough long process. And you really, you really get nerves of steel by the end of that, but, you know, as far as you know, where I went, and what degree programs I was in, I wouldn't change any of that. But, you know, there are things that I feel like I would have liked to have been more involved in, you know, I wish that I had, you know, more time to you know, pursue some of those, like extracurricular things, like I had friends that had time to, you know, volunteer at the, at the, at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Like, that would have been really fun to be able to, like, you know, kind of experience more of that. And I also wish that I had done more shadowing. So I shadowed a couple of different, you know, career people, but I didn't do it to a really high extent. And I wish that I had gone to those people and said, Hey, I might be interested in doing this as a career, can you can I shadow you for a day or you know, you know, have a coffee talk with you, you know, tell me what you do for you know, how did you get to where you are and what is your actual job like because, you know, you can read stuff on the internet and that does not usually do most jobs justice. So, you know, I wish I had done more of that. And, and, you know, I hope to be able to, you know, kind of instill that in my kids to that you know, to be able to get you know, get a little bit more hands on experience with things and so those are really the big things that that I would have changed and you know, but as far as like the the core things what what schools I went to, I don't think I would have changed any of that I'm I have a I have a good job and a good life now. So I really can't complain.

Venkat Raman  39:38  

Let's turn things a bit to high schoolers out there. What can advice would you give them about research about college about you know, career in general?

Liz E  39:50  [Advice for High Schoolers]

Yeah, I mean, I feel like there's I just would have a wealth of things to say but some of the big things are, you know, you are not who you are and High School, you are a very different person at 15 than you are in 25 and 35, and 45. And your brain gets better as you get older. And you get more focused and more passionate about things as you get older. So not knowing what you want to do at 15 or 17 or 18, there is no crime in that there is no law saying that you have to have your entire life figured out the day you're putting those college applications in and defining that degree program. There are because like, you know, you do a lot of growing up in that 70 to 22 range. You know, and a lot of kids, you know, might be 1718, they're adults, for all intents and purposes, but you really feel more like an adult and more confident in yourself, the older that you get. So don't be afraid to try things and try them again and try them again, again, until you really figure out like, Yes, this is what I want to do. Or this is what I want to be this is this is this is who I really am, you know, so there's there, there's a window, you know, there's a lot of pressure on high school students pick a four year college be in this degree, stick with this degree, get this job do this thing.

And, you know, everybody thinks that if they just do one thing, or get to a certain point that their life's gonna be perfect. And in reality, myself included, the road is not straight, a lot of things, a lot of branches, and you should look at every single one, figure out what you really, really want to do, and know that there's always an opportunity to adjust that later. And that to be caught to be to be, you know, true to yourself. You know, you know, you might say I had friends that were you know, practically in tears over I'm really wanted to have a PhD, but I hate research, you know, no offense to to Jim or to Larry, your tiny buddy, who you know, we're and they're like, I just hate it, I hate being in the lab. And I said, Well, you do know, you don't have to write? Yeah, there are other opportunities, I had people, I had friends that would, you know, get, you know, got their bachelor's degree, and they went to law school, or they went to the police academy, or they went to something, you know, something else. So you know, even with that degree in hand does not dictate the rest of your life. And that there's always an opportunity to, to change and solidify what you actually want to do and who you want to be. And if you're interested in research, join a lab, talk to somebody say, Hey, I don't know anything about anything, teach me something. And if you don't like that lab, try different lab, if you don't like that department, try different department. And at the end of the day, if none of those things work out, there's always something else, there's always other things out there to do that science doesn't have to be the be all end all. And there's time, life does not have to be figured out at 18 or 21, or 22, or however old you are when he graduated from college. So and also, you know, the other big thing would be, you don't have to be good at everything. You know, you I mean, you can have a degree in engineering and everything. So you know, engineers are really good at math, they're really good at science are really good with their hands and but you know what they may not be able to, you know, they may not have a great grasp of the English grammar, or they may not be able to tell you what the capital of Croatia is. But you know that everybody has things that they're really good at things that they're not. And I will tell you that even as a scientist, I did terrible in chemistry, I was the worst chemistry student, I took organic chemistry once got to D took it again, got a D a second time. I still have a PhD. And I remember when they asked me and my interview for my Ph. D program that I ended up accepting. They said, Do you think that that's going to hold you back? And I said, at this point, I want a PhD, I'm not going to let any of that hold me back. If there's something I need to learn, I will learn it when I need to. But that I can't be good at everything. So yeah, there's a lot of laughs there's so much pressure on high school students and and it's, it's not it's some, some do really well, and that's totally fine. Everybody is so different. I did not do well in high school. I didn't even do that, well, probably my first year of college. I just, you know, hunker down and figure out that if I want if I want this bad enough, I have to do these things and get there. So those are really the biggest pieces of advice that I have to high school students too.

Venkat Raman  44:42  

So let's, we're starting to wind down here, the podcast. So before we close anything you want to share in terms of memories or thoughts or anything else that you think might be interesting or useful to the listeners.

Liz E  45:01  [Memories]

You know, I, there are so it's been so long, I have so many different memories of each school and, you know, some good, some bad some in between and, and you know, some really good classes, some really bad class is and, you know, it's it's hard to even, you know, kind of, you know, pierce through all of that. And, you know, everybody's gonna have a very different experience. You know, there was other students that were in, you know, my my program at Fingerlakes. And they're doing all kinds of different things now. And it's really, it's really interesting to be able to see where people ended up and to have everybody start at the exact same place, right to have all of us in one spot. 15 years later, no two of us are doing the same thing. We're all doing so different things all over the country, on different areas, different fields. And you know, that again, you know, that there's no there's nothing saying that you know, nothing dictating your life, right at the beginning of college that can't be altered or changed as time goes on. And, and, and, you know, I had one funny memory, I remember from one of my one of my courses, I Finger Lakes, I, we were doing gel electrophoresis. So we had to cast our own gels and run them and then we were going to image them on a UV light box and my lab partner who begged me to let him carry the gel to the reader. And I told him to leave it in the in the bin. So he didn't drop it because I have dropped them and dropped dozens of them since then. And he's less than a foot away from it, and it slips out of his hand. And I just remember looking over and the instructor for that course was Dr. Prior. And she's just kind of like looking at you. And I'm looking at her and I'm just like I told him but I could not stop him from that. And also a cautionary tale that anybody taking organic chemistry that bangs are very flammable. Do not put your hair over the fire. That's another thing that happened to me when I was in organic chemistry. So and US piece of safety advice that I cannot stress enough when they tell you no open toed shoes in the lab, believe them when they say that if somebody has had a very hot liquid fresh out of the autoclave spilled on her brand new boots, which my boots saved me thankfully, you know, you'll never you'll never make that mistake twice. Yeah. Yeah, there's, it's it's a it's a fun ride. I like being able to think back on in hindsight, all the things that that had to transpire, you know, to get to where I am. And, you know, science is a big, big, big field. You know, there's a lot of different things to get involved in and, and just, you know, try it out. You know, there's a lot of different a lot of different things to do. Science is a is a big field.

Venkat Raman  48:11  

Absolutely. Absolutely. So, Liz, this has been truly very inspiring. I mean, I'm really impressed and want to congratulate you on what you've been able to do. And I'm sure it will continue. So we'll check back again, but for right now. Thank you so much for your time. Take care.

Liz E  48:32  

Thank you Venkat.

Venkat Raman  48:33  

Yeah, yep. Bye bye. Take care.

---------------------

Venkat  48:42  [Close]

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Elizabeth Eill on her College Journey.

This is a story of Undergraduate Research.

It is also a story of how Elizabeth’s love for Science found an outlet in Prof Hewlett’s BioTech Lab, and became a tool for learning.

It is fascinating to see how, as Elizabeth continued doing more research, her passion and interest in Biology grew deeper.

How the Research built her confidence, self-esteem to pursue higher education.

The role mentors played in her research career.

Doing research, being responsible for creating new knowledge, really appealed to her.

I hope Elizabeth’s story inspires you to get ready to try Undergraduate Research in college.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

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].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

Rochester Institute of Technology Alumni Podcast, Podcast for High Schoolers, Undergraduate, RIT Alumni Podcast, College Podcast, Undergraduate Experience, RIT Alumni, High School Students, Rochester Institute of Technology, Finger Lakes Community College, State University of New York Upstate Medical University, US Colleges, College Admissions, College Applications, Red-Tailed Hawk


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