From engineer to biologist

March 28, 2012 | by Samuel LaBarge

Samuel LaBargeI was inspired by two amazing principal investigators (PIs) as an undergraduate. One was struggling to obtain that ever important funding (average age for first RO1 grant: 43), while the other seemed mystically able to score numerous grants. The lab environments were completely different. Their individual approaches to research were a testament to what can be accomplished with stochastic minds. Despite the differences each of these PIs had, they met along one similar line —  me.  I was pushed equally by both to dive onto the path of a career scientist. They each opened my eyes to what can be accomplished by passionately working away at graduate school.

Applications to graduate programs, for me, were centered around a hospital setting. As with most of us here, I have loved ones and close friends that struggle with cancer, and many who did not survive. That was my motivation for choosing this setting. I wanted to be on the front line of designing therapeutics and really see the results of my actions. This most definitely stems from my training as an engineer. Engineers think about solving problems, with deadlines. I just wanted to solve problems that related to cancer.

I ended up finding City of Hope through a former graduate student and mentor. Just before finishing his thesis, his work gave him the opportunity to garnish some last minute data at City of Hope. Upon completing his task, he gave a short lab presentation, where I learned about City of Hope. This was the eye-opening event that brought me here.

Pursuing a Ph.D. is not a trivial matter, and this institution’s vision, ideals, and resources fit superbly well with what I wanted for my education. City of Hope is constantly striving to design and put into practice more effective treatments. As an engineer, this is what I envisioned myself being a part of in my graduate school experience.

After applying to several institutions and working through the interviews, City of Hope became my number one choice. I found the most appealing aspect of this place was the students. There are great resources here, the stipends are decent, the average time needed to graduate compares with other schools in this state. The students, however, are above and beyond what I meet at similar institutions across other states. After meeting a myriad of them during my interview weekend, I needed to come here. This was the atmosphere I was looking for. This was the place that would foster my continued learning. This was the place that an engineer would enjoy.

My transition from an engineer was never really complete. In fact I will always consider myself an engineer. At the moment, I am just applying my fields of thought to a topic outside of the exactly square training of the undergraduate college I attended. I found City of Hope, and I have a great opportunity.

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