SOME OF THE GRADUATE STUDENTS IN THE DIVISION would like to tell you more about their experiences here and why they chose to come here.
BRADLEY CARTHON entered Harvard's MD/PhD program in 1996 from Hampton University and received his PhD degree in 2004 and his MD degree a year later. He was a SHURP participant in 1995. Brad has completed residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and is now a hematology-oncology fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Brad says that "I chose to come to Harvard based on my summer here in 1995. I had a strong feeling I would enjoy the academic environment here and that was confirmed as I spent more time on campus. I think it's extraordinary to have so many people who are experts in their respective areas all in one place. It makes it much easier to collaborate and seek out advice regarding research, career paths and other resources. It took a while to adjust from my time at Hampton. I found that it was important to balance my life with school-related and other extracurricular activities so that I got an opportunity to dialogue with other graduate students in the Boston area, New England, and other parts of the country."
"Harvard is also a very active center for outreach. That was important to me as I enjoy tutoring and working in the community. There are several programs both on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods that love to have medical and graduate students participate. You can tell that it makes a difference when you speak about your experiences to younger students. Overall I think coming to HMS for medical and graduate school was an excellent decision for me."
BEDRICK GADEA did his undergraduate work at San Jose State University in California, and received his PhD in Genetics in 2005 as a member of the BBS program. He then did a post-doctoral fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. As a graduate student, Bedrick noted that "Choosing a graduate program can be a stressful experience, but hopefully the years that you spend as a graduate student will be rewarding and exciting. When choosing a graduate program, I wanted to select a program that was diverse in terms of the graduate student population and the research that was being carried out by the faculty. The Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) at Harvard Medical School (HMS) provides the opportunity to rotate in laboratories from many different scientific disciplines and attend seminars in the many hospitals and research centers that are affiliated with HMS. These seminars attract researchers from all over the globe, allowing students to listen to some of the most creative and exciting science being done in laboratories all over the world."
"HMS is affiliated with many hospitals and research centers, which allows students to have access to over two hundred laboratories in the area. Also, there are several graduate programs at HMS and hence the graduate student population is quite large. In addition, Harvard is located in an area that houses many other prestigious universities; thus, scientific collaborations between laboratories from different universities are frequent, making this area an ideal place to do research."
"The academic atmosphere that surrounds Boston also attracts people from all over the world, giving this city a very international feel. This is also evident in the many ethnic restaurants that are located all over the city. Getting around in Boston is quite easy, although trains tend to be very crowded and stop running just after midnight. In summary, Harvard Medical School is an ideal place to attend a graduate program because the DMS is very academically strong and is located in a very international and cultural city."
ELIZABETH GLATER earned her PhD in Neuroscience in 2007 and is a post-doctoral research fellow at Rockefeller University in New York City. She chose to enter Harvard's Neuroscience Graduate Program "because I thought it had the most exciting and innovative Neuroscience research program. I was attracted by the high quality, 'ahead of the rest' nature of the research, and breadth and variety of research activities. Researchers address so many different topics, including the molecular mechanisms of axon guidance, synaptic transmission, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's Disease.
"In addition, I was very excited about the many resources available to students and researchers from the excellent faculty to state-of-the-art facilities to awe-inspiring lectures and symposia given by faculty from around the country and even the world."
"Although thinking about the academic benefits of Harvard made me quite eager to attend, I was not sure what it would be like to be a student here, particularly a student of color here. Would I feel lost and overwhelmed? Would the students be extremely competitive? I was happy to find the student body energetic, friendly and willing to help each other. I especially enjoy Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard (MBSH) meetings which provide a great way to meet students and get support."
"MBSH members have been invaluable by giving academic advice (such as how to choose a good thesis adviser), as well as practical advice (such as reminding us to turn in our book receipts for reimbursement before the deadline)."
"I have been told that graduate school is what you make of it, and I find this to be true. In my experience, there's definitely a lot to work with at Harvard. There are many resources and supports that enable you to make the graduate experience here an excellent one."
The following is adapted from information originally contributed by DMS alumnus James Monroe-Gonzalez to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences' Smooth Transitions Minority Student Handbook. Dr. Monroe earned an AB degree in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard College and a PhD degree in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology in 1996 as a student in Toxicology. He also served on the Board of Freshman Advisors and was a resident advisor at the College during his graduate student years. Dr. Monroe currently works at Merck Research Laboratories.
"Boston is a collection of neighborhoods, each with a separate character and atmosphere. The city is home to several large minority communities. Blacks live primarily in Roxbury, East Cambridge, and Dorchester. Caribbean and Latino communities can be found in Cambridge's Central Square, Boston's South End, Jamaica Plain, and East Boston. Boston's Native American community is small and widely scattered throughout the area. [Note: Native American students may find sources of community through the Harvard University Native American Program and at the North American Indian Center in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston]"
"As a black Latino, I found that it was helpful to be relatively thick-skinned and aware of my surroundings. I was not always comfortable with the climate for race relations, but the types of problems I encountered are not unique to Boston, and my experiences are probably shared by students of color elsewhere. My race did not prevent me from visiting and enjoying all that Boston has to offer."
"Be sure to venture beyond the Harvard campuses and explore the Boston/Cambridge area. You will find lots to do in terms of affordable music, theater, art, and restaurants. There are many opportunities for volunteer activities."
Kathryn Hall received her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from the Division of Medical Sciences in 1994. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Dr. Hall accepted positions as a staff scientist and group leader in the biotechnology industry. She eventually became the Senior Manager of Transcription Profiling at Millennium Pharmaceuticals Incorporated, working in the interface between molecular biology and engineering. She recently made a career change, earned a master’s degree in visual arts from Emerson College, and co-founded Stony Hill Pictures, where she has directed and produced such award-winning documentaries as “Deliver Us,” which explores the causative factors and the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on communities where it continues to spread.
"After graduating from the University of Miami, I spent three years working as a research scientist at Baxter Healthcare Corp. and then headed off to graduate school. I had always wanted to go back to school and I am convinced that my decision to attend graduate school in the Division of Medical Sciences was a good one. Not only did the Division foster the opportunity for an exceptional research experience, but being in Boston also provided a very stimulating environment outside of school."
"Although my good opinion of the Division was somewhat constant from the start, my opinion of Boston definitely evolved. It started out on the wrong foot when, on arriving at Boston's Logan airport I was faced with what was to be an ongoing challenge - negotiating the streets of Boston! Unlike the well organized, planned streets of Miami, where I had spent the previous seven years, in Boston if you did not know where you were going, it would be very difficult to use any kind of logic to get there. Getting lost was a common occurrence until I surrendered to the subway system."
"Once my first semester got started and the orientation bonding began (which I urge all incoming students to fully participate in as this is a low pressure way to meet other students and faculty), I realized that there would be little need for public transportation, as I was confined to my lab, classes and the library. Given these constraints I was relieved to find the student pool generally interesting and diverse and by the time classes had started, I had established a warm rapport with a number of students with similar interests and totally different backgrounds. The end of my first semester was punctuated with what I was told was a relatively mild winter. I must say that even though I was more accustomed to a much warmer climate, winter with its whole new wardrobe and skiing opportunities was not as bad as I had anticipated. So for whatever reason, be it global warming or just luck, I have yet to experience the horrors of the notorious extreme Boston winter."
"Unfortunately, however, I was not spared the occasional chilling experience of Boston racism. Boston and its surrounding cities are full of contrasts, pockets of integration in areas such as Cambridge and Jamaica Plain are adjacent to virtually uniracial communities. Consequently there is always the specter of racial tension not uncommon in other parts of America. Incidents such as the Charles Stuart case and my painful personal experience in 1990 with landlord rejection because I was a minority served as reminders of this. Thankfully, however, there exist comprehensive avenues for legal recourse which are very accessible and, as far as I can tell, effective."
"I am very relieved to say that my experiences within the Medical School community were very positive and I did not suffer direct discrimination for being either a minority or a woman. There is however a paucity of minority faculty in the Division and although there are programs in place to rectify this situation, change happens very slowly. There are opportunities for graduate students to get involved in some of these efforts, such as the Division's diversity recruitment activities (which provided me with the opportunity to actually do something about the status quo). There are also programs sponsored by the graduate school's minority graduate student organization, the W. E. B. Du Bois Society. This organization, based on the Cambridge campus, facilitates interaction between minority students and faculty."
"The bottom line for graduate school is: can you leave it as an expert in the field in which you write your dissertation? That is to say, can you acquire a working knowledge of the research in your field? Can you think independently about problems in your area and design and do rational experiments to address them and can you draw reasonable conclusions from these experiments? To reach this goal, one requires an interesting research project, tenacity of purpose, many late hours and a little luck, a mentor who is willing to help you develop and hone your skills as a scientist, colleagues to advise you and commiserate with, and a wealth of research tools ranging from functional lab equipment to access to hundreds of journals."
"The Division programs are extremely well-suited to meet these requirements. The faculty generally rank among the best in their fields and are numerous, so once you have identified an area in which you want to work, the options are often very good. Furthermore, labs tend to be very well equipped and, if they are lacking in a reagent or piece of apparatus, chances are good that someone down the hall or elsewhere in the Medical area has it. Seminars are frequent and feature an appropriate mix of hot up-and-coming scientists and the well-established scientist doing really cool research."
"When things got frustrating in the laboratory, as they sometimes do, the location of the Division in Boston became a major plus. It is close to Fenway Park (for the baseball fans), movie theaters, the Museum of Fine Arts, fashionable Newbury Street, and the Charles River (for sailing, cycling, or roller blading). The Vanderbilt Hall dormitory, situated in the heart of the Medical area, has squash, tennis, basketball, and weight-lifting facilities. Harvard Square, which features plays, poetry readings, many restaurants, more cinemas, bookstores, and street musicians, is a free 20-minute-scenic-shuttle-ride away. If you really want to get away for a weekend or more, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Cape Cod are all a few hours away and boast panoramic scenery, beaches, affordable bed and breakfasts and lake or off-shore fishing and canoeing."
"All in all, I was very comfortable with my decision to come here for graduate school. Once all the basic requirements for a good school are met - and they certainly were well met here - it is really up to the individual to make the most of the experience. If one is willing to do this, graduate school in the Division can be a very positive experience and pave the way for a fulfilling career in science."
Michelle Lee is a graduate of Spelman College, where she was in the MARC program. She spent a year traveling and studying in West Africa before entering Harvard, where she received her MD/PhD degrees in 2003. As a PhD student in the Division's Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences Michelle conducted research on signal transduction mechanisms in early development in the frog. After completing her residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Michelle returned to this area for a pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship at Children’s Hospital, Boston.
"I am very pleased that I chose to do my graduate work in the Division of Medical Sciences at HMS. The opportunities for training and growth as a scientist are arguably unparalleled. The laboratories in which a student may work are incredibly numerous and diverse. Exposure to visiting academic speakers and to symposia allows students to constantly increase their knowledge. And, most importantly, my fellow students are both talented and interesting.
"If you are considering applying to or accepting an offer of admission from the Division, you may be at a crossroads in your decision-making. The Division deserves your sincere consideration and, if you attend, will benefit from your own unique contributions to its scientific community. Please feel free to contact current students if you would like to talk more about being a graduate student in the Division."
Gentry Patrick grew up in South Central Los Angeles, earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a Masters in Biochemistry from the University of California at San Francisco. Dr. Patrick completed his Ph.D. degree in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program of the Division in 1999, and was a postdoctoral research fellow in Biology at Caltech. He is presently an assistant professor in the Section of Neurobiology at the University of California, San Diego.
"Life at Harvard was great for me. I admit that getting used to the weather was a little difficult but it was O.K. I was initially skeptical of Boston and its strong traditions which I believed to be quite different than mine. However, the Harvard community greatly facilitated my transition from California to Boston. It started with my recruitment weekend here at the Harvard Medical School. The program administrators were sincere and helpful in making sure I got a good look at how life would be at Harvard and in Boston. The faculty were accessible and seemed very dedicated to teaching students. The core reason for developing my department in the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) program, was to establish a program that put students first. This included teaching students and creating more student and student/faculty interactions. I believe that the faculty and staff did this all the time I was a graduate student."
"As a minority student I was aware of the many obstacles which I may face that others may not. Many times the lack of diversity in the faculty hinders the development of minority students. No one is there to relate to specific issues a minority student may have. I did not feel discouraged at Harvard. There are very few faculty of color and I believe this could be and will be remedied eventually. However, I believe the faculty and department administrators have been conscious of this fact. The dean of the medical school while I was here, Dr. Joseph Martin, most certainly had minority issues and faculty diversity on his agenda. His track record followed him from California, where he was the chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco, and was effective in diversity issues even though there was strong opposition coming from the Regents of California. I was able to interact with other students of color. There is a Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard group, where students, post-docs, and faculty can interact and discuss science as well as do social events. Lastly, because our program was affiliated with the main Harvard campus, there were many opportunities to interact with faculty and students in other disciplines."
Michelle R. Johnson Hamlet received her B.S. in Language Arts from Georgetown University. She then received an M.S. in Zoology at Howard University. She earned her Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology from the Division of Medical Sciences in 2001, and was a postdoctoral research associate at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. She is now a program developer in the intramural training office of the NIH National Human Genome Project. Dr. Hamlet describes her experiences leading up to and including her time as a graduate student in DMS.
"The road to obtaining my Ph.D. from Harvard has been, one might say, indirect, but definitely interesting. I've been smitten by the idea of doing research every since 10th grade biology class when we observed our cheek cells under a microscope. Yet when I went to college, I decided to major in foreign languages with a minor in Biology because I was too intimidated to pursue Biology as a major. Such a decision could be considered a setback in my ultimate career plans but it did have some important advantages, such as an opportunity to study abroad and become proficient in a foreign language."
"Eventually, with the help of a valuable mentor in college, I realized that I really wanted to do research. She encouraged me to apply to M.S. programs so I could take the courses I needed to enter a Ph.D. program and to get research experience. It was a humbling experience to get accepted to only one program (provisionally at that!) and even more so to be a college graduate taking freshman chemistry."
"While completing the Master's program at Howard University, my advisor suggested that I apply to Harvard's Cell and Developmental Biology program (now part of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program) in the Division of Medical Sciences. The major reason I chose to go to Harvard was the wide range of research disciplines available to students in the program. Another very appealing aspect of the Division is the administrative support and encouragement that is offered to graduate students. For example, the Office of Diversity Programs and Special Academic Resources is a valuable resource for all graduate students, particularly under-represented minority students."
"It was rewarding to be in a location such as Boston that has so many excellent researchers located at Harvard and at neighboring institutions, all of whom are just a short walk or T (subway) ride away. This environment gives ample opportunity to network and have access to many resources, which helped to enrich my graduate school experience."
"Life as a graduate student had many challenges. The feelings of isolation were sometimes difficult to deal with, especially as a minority student. I did not have any problems with my classmates, but I did run into one faculty member who treated me unfairly in one of my courses. I don't know what motivated his behavior, but I did not let his attitude deter me from pursuing my goals. Although I met a number of supportive faculty, the paucity of minority faculty in DMS was discouraging, and the numbers did not change much while I was in graduate school (which was a long time). During my early years, about 25 minority graduate students and post docs collaborated to form an organization that would cater to our particular interests. This organization, the Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard (MBSH) really helped to sustain me while in graduate school. It was an extraordinary experience to be involved in the founding of an organization. Once MBSH was up and running, it was a valuable resource to use as a forum to present data in front of peers, or simply a place to find a friend to pat me on the back when yet another experiment did not work out."
"I also had a chance to interact with minority graduate students of many different disciplines the W. E. B. DuBois Society, which is based on the main Cambridge campus of Harvard. It was well worth a trip to Cambridge to participate in the seminars and social events that the DuBois Society sponsored. It was a nice break from the lab, and I had a chance to learn about the world outside of the hallowed halls of the medical school. In fact, that's where I met my husband."
"What is life like in Boston? Boston is an interesting city. Culturally and artistically, it is a rich city with many things to do and experience (if you can pull yourself away from the bench long enough to enjoy it). Even though Boston is a culturally diverse city it is not well integrated, so it is quite common to see parts of town where mostly specific ethnic groups live. Some people might be attracted to that aspect of the city. I was very conscious of where I chose to live because I wanted to feel comfortable. I lived in a variety of different neighborhoods from Somerville to Roxbury."
"There is no question that Boston can be a difficult city to navigate both literally and figuratively. Driving is a nightmare, parking is difficult (thank goodness for a good public transportation system), the cost of living is high, and it can be hard to interact with people outside of your immediate circle. That said, it is definitely possible to find one's niche. What is ultimately most important is finding a graduate program that is the best fit for the individual."
Renee Ned received her Ph.D. in Genetics from the Division of Medical Sciences in 2003. Her thesis research focused on characterizing the in vivo requirement for a transferrin receptor in tissue development and immune function. Also a graduate of MIT, Dr. Ned was very pleased to return to a warmer climate for her postdoctoral fellowship. She was a research fellow in the Division of Parasitic Diseases of the National Center for Infectious Diseases branch of the Centers for Disease Communication and Prevention (CDC) in Georgia, and is currently the Genomics Project Coordinator for the McKing Consulting Group. Dr. Ned comments here about being a member of the Division and Boston community. In addition to the student organizations that she mentions, Dr. Ned was also a member of the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College.
"One of the largest attractions to DMS was the vast array of labs and scientific interests, and the freedom to pick a thesis lab from over 300 available. I'd always held an interest in infectious disease, but did not want to limit my choices by picking small departments for my graduate work. The sheer number of faculty here may seem daunting at first, but I was able to do a rotation in a lab I heard about from a fellow classmate at the BBS (Biological and Biomedical Sciences program) Rotation Club, which is a forum for first and second year students to discuss the good and bad points about labs they had done rotations in. As it turned out, I chose that lab for my thesis work, and studied iron metabolism and not an infectious disease!"
"Graduate school can be pretty isolating once you've chosen a thesis lab. And it's no secret that students of color are sparse in graduate programs (especially science ones). So, I counted on student organizations such as MBSH and the Dubois Society for opportunities to meet with other graduate students of color at Harvard Medical School and on the Cambridge campus. (I even co-chaired and chaired MBSH for the 1999-2000 school year.)"
"As a native Southerner (and an EXTREMELY large fan of warmth and sunshine), the decision to remain in Boston after my undergrad years at MIT was a difficult one. Whatever your reservations are, you'll probably also find that Harvard and DMS are worth some cold winters. . . . . . dress warmly!"