MS Bio Science Graduate Pursuing Doctorate At Harvard

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Equipped with acquired skills and exceptional research training she gained in the MS in Biological Sciences offered by Dominican University of California in partnership with Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Melia Granath-Panelo ’21 MS is grateful for her experiences as she completes her second year as a PhD student in the Biological Sciences program at Harvard University.

“Overall, I definitely matured a lot as a scientist and a person throughout my two years at Dominican, which is exactly what I set out to do in the first place, and I am thankful for the opportunities presented to me,” Melia says. “I feel much more confident in the lab, and when discussing science in formal and informal settings. My scientific writing skills greatly improved as well, and I feel prepared and ready for the next steps. I highly recommend this program to anyone who’s thinking about pursuing a PhD in the related fields that this program encompasses.”

Melia, who joined  Alejandro Lopez-Ramirez ’14, MS ’20 now at the University of Notre Dame as the second Dominican MS graduating student who graduated in the spring of 2021 that was accepted into a prestigious PhD program, is pursuing her doctorate in the metabolism field at Harvard. She was impressed with the reputation of its department, variety of labs, and breadth of resources. In her Zoom interviews with Harvard, she felt as comfortable with the culture and current students there as she did when she came to the School of Health and Natural Sciences after graduating from St. Mary’s College. She was also drawn the uniqueness of the research-based programs at Dominican.

“Although most schools do have a research thesis component, there is so much coursework to be done as well. This program definitely had the most emphasis on research, and at a high level at that,” Melia says.

“The scientific education I received in the classroom was very rigorous, and Dominican offered me a chance to further my research education specifically with its partnerships with the Buck Institute and BioMarin. I knew I wanted to pursue a PhD eventually, but I wanted to advance my research skills before applying. The high focus on lab work instead of coursework greatly attracted me to this program. The program being fully funded was also a nice perk.”

At the Buck Institute, Melia worked in Dr. Lisa Ellerby’s lab. Her research mainly focused on Protein Kinase C, an important protein that is involved in cellular signaling and dysregulated in Huntington’s Disease pathogenesis.

“My project aimed to understand PKC’s function in HD, and to see if using a small molecule to activate PKC is beneficial for treating HD,” Melia says. “In my second project, I used induced-pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to create organoids, or `mini brains’ that specifically aim to model the striatum, not the entire brain itself. I mainly worked on the development of this model and its characterization. These projects encompass the areas of biology that I was mostly interested in at the time I started the program: cell signaling, therapeutics, and stem cell biology. Primarily, I became interested in these subjects due to my undergraduate research and coursework; these were the fields where I felt a strong intrinsic motivation to learn more.”

Melia felt prepared to take on the challenge of earning her PhD. She says she is keeping an open mind about her career trajectory, but hopes to work on developing new therapeutics for metabolic and chronic diseases.

Melia also hopes other undergraduate and graduates students follow her footsteps. She offers advice for those with such PhD aspirations.

“Don’t be afraid to take time after undergrad to strengthen your CV, learn new skills, and simply live and enjoy life outside of science. It will give you so much clarity as to why you are choosing your path, and which specific area you want to work in,” Melia says. “Those answers will really shine through in your application, and you will have so much more confidence going into your next steps. The programs you are applying to aren’t going anywhere.”

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