By Athena Metaxas
- Featured Alumnus: Houdah Abualtin
- Year Graduated: Spring 2012
- Current Position: First-year Microbiology Ph.D. candidate at UT Austin
- Fun Fact: “I am a marathon runner as of this past February. No, it was not pretty, but I finished all 26.2 miles of that race within the time limit. Coincidentally, that marathon was the same weekend as my interview weekend with UT for grad school!”
1. What made you decide to pursue a doctorate degree?
During my senior year in high school, I got to go on a tour of some labs at MD Anderson. I’ve always loved science in school and figured I’d be a medical doctor. That day, the world of research was suddenly opened to me. Before then, I had heard of people doing research, but I didn’t really know what that meant. After believing research was for me and that I wanted to run my own lab in the future, I came to UT as an undergrad and got involved in FRI early on. Fortunately, I found that I did like research and that I could see myself staying in it, possibly being the PI (principle investigator) of my own lab in time. Graduate school is that next step towards one day being a PI.
2. Do you think the undergraduate education you received at UT prepared you well for graduate school?
I do. I learned how to study and budget my time effectively (okay, this did take a while for me to grasp as an undergrad, I will admit) which are absolutely crucial when you are in grad school. The classes are on par with the harder upper division courses so I haven’t felt terribly overwhelmed from that aspect.
3. What’s your most favorite aspect about being a graduate student at UT?
Well… getting paid is nice. I really enjoy how everything is more specific to your interests. You choose the labs you want to rotate in based on what truly interests you from a research perspective. The core classes are all related to your major and you have a couple elective courses you choose later on. It’s much more flexible than undergrad where you have to take things like English and history even though they aren’t necessary for your science degree.
4. What’s some advice that you would give to undergraduates who are thinking about going to graduate school?
Get involved in research! Being at UT affords you a great opportunity to get involved, whether that be via FRI or going directly into a research lab. Grad school programs take roughly five to six years to complete. In those five to six years, there will be many failed experiments, times you are scooped by outside labs, and moments in which your project completely tanks. If you can experience failures similar to these as an undergrad where you still have the ability to easily find something else that interests you then that will be immensely beneficial. If you go through the failures early on and can rebound, grad school is a good route for you.
5. Which came first: the chicken or the egg?
This is akin to my favorite science conundrum: ‘Which came first, RNA or protein?’ You need protein to translate RNA, yet you need RNA to make protein. Of course, in this case, most people favor the “RNA world” in which some phenomena can be described by ribozymes (RNAs that can perform catalytic functions). So I suppose if you carried the analogy over, the egg would come first.