During the first two years of grad school, my days were mostly filled with classes, virtual meetings with my collaborators at the Broad Institute, and either working as a teaching assistant in labs or grading papers. Beginning this fall, I will be supported by Professor Rao's grant, so I will not need to TA; I'll be spending most of my time at the Broad in the lab.
Toni is what some might consider a non-traditional graduate student. After earning her undergraduate degree and while working at the Broad Institute, she was also working toward her master's in biotechnology at Harvard Extension School. She was doing her master's thesis in the Regev lab, studying a transcription factor in yeast that is involved with cell size, growth rate, and some cancers, when she met WPI’s Professor Reeta Rao, who happened to be on sabbatical there. It was, in part, because of her great working relationship with Rao that she decided that WPI was the place to pursue her PhD so she could continue her research.
After she graduates with her degree, Toni intends to become a research scientist at either a nonprofit like the Broad Institute or in the industry, studying immune cells and disease.
- Reeta Prusty Rao, Associate Professor, Biology & Biotechnology
Speaking to about 150 people at the 13th Annual ASM Conference on Candida and Candidiasis in Seattle, Washington; Toni was one of the few students presenting their work.
- Being the first in her immediate family to get a college degree, a master's degree, and (soon) a PhD – her whole family has encouraged her to keep working toward her goals
Working as a Teaching Assistant
- Reading and relaxing
- Spending time with family and loved ones
As a TA for lab courses, we are present for each experiment, as well as grade lab reports with the goal of trying to foster scientific writing. For lecture-based courses, I've also had to present for an ecology class and lead conference sections for a human biology course, where we discuss how to read a scientific paper; this is something super important and I wish I had had this type of class available to me as an undergraduate.
For my own experiments, I am working with both Candida albicans and primary macrophage cell. The goal is to learn more about the interactions between them, which will hopefully one day help to create new drugs for fighting Candida infections.
Get ready for a very challenging but rewarding experience!
My favorite part of WPI is taking challenging courses outside my field. I really like trying to understand how human immune cells interact with and deal with foreign invaders in our body. There's so much going on inside of our bodies every day.
Even though my specialty is in biology, I've also taken courses outside my genre to help my research, such as coding and RNA sequencing analysis in the future. I continue to learn more and more with each course I take.