Lauren Rodriguez graduated in 2012 from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology. During the summer of 2011, she studied mycobacterial genetics with HHMI investigator William Jacobs at Albert Einstein College of Medicine as an EXROP student. In the fall, she will begin a Ph.D. program at University of California, San Francisco in biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and cell biology.
Q. What has led you to pursue a career in science?
A. When I started at UC Santa Cruz, I wanted to go to medical school. But I was chosen to participate in a freshman research class through HHMI's Science Education Alliance. In that class, we annotated and analyzed the genome of a new bacteriophage that we discovered in the soil, and I ended up loving it. After that, I continued studying phage genetics in the lab of Grant Hartzog, one of my professors who facilitated the class. But having continued the same projects throughout my college experience, I was worried that that was the only thing that interested me. And that’s not all of what science is.
I was worried that I would need to be more flexible in what I wanted to do. But when I spent my EXROP experience studying drug-resistant strains of the tuberculosis mycobacteria -- something I had never done before -- and I still liked it, I knew research was what I wanted to do. The more experience I’ve gotten, the more I really do like research. I’ve had moments of frustration, but I’ve learned that that’s part of the deal, that’s what happens. And that’s what makes it so much more rewarding when things do work out.
Q. Have you had inspirational figures who have guided you to this point?
A. My high school biology teacher was a big influence. I am first generation Mexican, and so was my teacher in high school. He was really excited that I was doing well in science and that’s what I wanted to do. He was just really excited that I was excited about science. It always helps, having somebody that’s just as excited as you are that you’re accomplishing things.
Q. What do you see as the impact of the Gilliam fellowship?
A. Science is going to solve so many of the world’s problems. Even if you do a tiny piece, someone might come along and put it all together. Even the really small insignificant parts eventually add up and will make massive changes in the world. The Gilliam fellowship is not only helping to train future scientists, but also to train good mentors for the future. It’s about investing in the next generation–every single generation.
Photo: Paul Morigi/AP Images for HHMI