Working to make the world a better place: One graduate's story

June 1, 2016 | by Denise Heady

It is not unusual for scientists to be portrayed in movies and television as mad scientists with delusions of taking over the world or as eccentric and uber-geeky beings who create technologies that are more like magic than reality.

Cecilia Choy, Ph.D., is a far cry from any of that.

As a recent graduate of City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, Choy can better be described as selfless, working tirelessly to make the world a better place — in and outside of the lab.

The Upland, California, resident has spent the past five years in the Jandial Laboratory studying how cancer spreads to the brain under the supervision of neurosurgeon and scientist Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope.

“Cecilia's immense talent and hard work raised the bar for my entire lab and helped me grow as a mentor and principal investigator,” said Jandial.

Working alongside Jandial, Choy was able to discover a field that not many researchers dedicate themselves to studying. 

"Brain metastases are a growing health problem for patients, but something that is rarely explored scientifically," said Choy. "So when I had the opportunity to work in the lab of a neurosurgeon investigating this type of brain cancer, I was thrilled at the opportunity."

While Choy has always had a love for science, she never envisioned herself entering the field of research. In high school she considered entering medical school, but not long after starting college at the University of California, Los Angeles, Choy discovered something much more interesting and rewarding: cancer research.

“I worked in two labs during college,” said Choy. “One was a pathology lab, with a focus on ovarian cancer, and the other was a neuroimaging lab. It was very hands on and that’s when I really became interested in doing the actual bench work in the laboratory.”

After finishing her undergrad and master’s degrees, Choy knew she wanted to pursue her doctorate degree at City of Hope.

The renowned graduate program trains a handful of select students in the fields of chemical, molecular and cellular biology, as well as bioinformatics and genetics.

Having gone to large institutions for most of her education, Choy was ready to experience a more individualized education experience. 

“I knew, through my volunteering activities, many Make-a-Wish kids and campers from Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times who were treated at City of Hope,” said Choy. “Their description of the clinical aspects of City of Hope piqued my interest. But I was also very drawn to its small school size and I knew I wanted to continue in the field of cancer research — something City of Hope excels in.”

The graduate school offers a rigorous program of coursework and laboratory research culminating in a Ph.D. degree. The faculty of 75 scientists train a select number of students, preparing them for high-achieving careers at universities, research institutions, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and in Choy’s case, it can even help prepare students for a career in law.

Choy was always interested in law and attending law school, but it was one of those things where she thought she had to choose to study either science or law. But when she started the program at City of Hope, she learned about patent law and realized it was possible for her to have a career in both subjects.

“One of my favorite things about City of Hope is that you can always be learning something here. Whether it was at a core facility or through my internship at the Office of Technology Licensing, the experts were always willing to teach me things I didn't know or help clear up things I didn't fully understand,” said Choy.

“Coming to City of Hope was the best choice I could of made for myself.”

On Friday, June 10, Choy was one of 11 graduate students who received a Doctor of Philosophy degree at the school’s 18th commencement ceremony, held in the Rose Garden on City of Hope’s main campus. 

These students are now prepared to transform the future of health and use their accomplishments to have a positive impact on society — reflecting a true image of today’s scientists.  

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Learn more about the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences.

If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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