The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.
Get to know Liz
Occupation: PhD Graduate Student
Institution: University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, New York
Liz is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University Of Rochester School of Medicine. She investigates the function and underpinnings of osteoclasts, the cells that “eat” bone in our bodies. She attended the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez where she graduated with a B.S. in Biology. In her spare time, she volunteers at the Rochester Museum and Science Center and tutors young students in math, science and Spanish. To learn more about Liz or ask any questions you can connect with her at www.linkedin.com/in/lizalbertorio, or follow her on Twitter @LizAlbertorio.
1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
I am interested in understanding what bone diseases do to osteoclasts (the cells that are responsible for “eating” bone). In general, our lab wants to understand how the balance of bone degradation by osteoclasts and bone formation by osteoblasts changes in diseases like psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
2. When did you first become interested in your field?
One of my earliest exposures to the field of immunology (and science in general) was as an undergraduate student. Supported by the NIH’s STEP-UP program (Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons), I spent a summer working in the laboratory of Dr. Frederick Alt, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School. I quickly realized how complex our immune system is and how important it is to understand how immune responses work in our bodies to protect us from infections and diseases. After that summer experience, I engaged in undergraduate research at my university and then applied to graduate school.
3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
One awesome part of being a scientist is that I get to interact with a number of incredibly talented individuals who are each interested in diverse fields of science. This provides the perfect ground for brainstorming ideas and approaching scientific problems with creativity. Another awesome part of being a scientist is the impact that your work has on learning more about diseases and how we can improve on understanding them. Becoming an active contributor to this knowledge is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.
4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
Like many other graduate students, my day is divided between coursework, scientific seminars and bench work experiments. Laboratory meetings, coursework and scientific seminars take a big portion of my morning and early afternoon. Afterwards I plan or do experiments at the bench, read scientific literature and write about my project. Reading scientific literature is important in order to keep track of the newest discoveries in your field. Writing is another important aspect of science—I often write abstracts for presentations, grants to apply for funding, scientific posters, and keep track of my current and future experiments. I don’t consider any of my days boring—there is always something different to do or new to learn.
5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Mentors in your life are important, especially in those times where you are not sure how to approach goals and define career paths. I encourage you to visit the website of your nearest university and find the contact information of faculty or graduate students whose research interests you share, and don’t hesitate to send them an email. I have yet to find a scientist who does not get excited when young students ask them questions about their research or seek career advice.
Image credit: Liz Albertorio
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