Bridget Marcinkowski is a senior double majoring in Nanoscience and Biological Sciences. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Blacksburg Rescue Squad.
What are you majoring in?
I am double majoring in Biological Sciences and Nanoscience.
What, specifically, drew you to enrolling in Nanoscience?
During orientation, I attended an information session on new programs within the College of Science. I remember hearing about nanoscience for the first time and being astounded by the seemingly endless applications. I recognized the potential for nanoscience to revolutionize the field of medicine and I could think of no better way to supplement my biology studies while giving me a unique perspective from my peers.
What about the program exceeded your expectations?
So many things! First, I have immensely enjoyed learning from distinguished faculty from all fields. Second, I have appreciated the emphasis placed on research, not just that we are required to participate in undergraduate research, but that we are taught invaluable and practical career skills such as how to give a scientific presentation or how to read and comprehend a journal article.
What surprised you?
On the first day of classes, I was surprised when hearing my Nanoscience classmates’ majors. I was a little uneasy at the beginning, trying to comprehend how I, as a biology major, could all succeed in the same program as students in engineering, physics, math, and so on. I quickly came to appreciate the collaborative nature of the Nanoscience program, which fosters close-knit relationships between students. This approach has greatly contributed to my success in the program. Even though math and physics are not areas I’m naturally strong in, I always have a classmate eager to help me learn.
Describe an experience you had in the program that stands out.
In my 8 a.m. Nanomedicine class, my professor noticed our blank stares and frequent yawns, and spontaneously decided one morning to hold class in a nearby coffee shop. This has now become a regular occurrence every time we have a journal discussion. I feel so fortunate to get to spend those early mornings gathered around a table with my peers, drinking coffee and discussing the latest breakthroughs in medicine. Especially at such a large university, I realize how rare it is to be able to do this. I often notice students and professors curiously standing by, listening to what we are discussing and probably wondering how they can join in.
How do you think Nanoscience differs from traditional science classes?
I think what really sets Nanoscience classes apart from traditional science classes is the interdisciplinary nature of the program. In any given Nanoscience class, I may have a lesson that incorporates concepts from materials science, chemistry, physics, engineering, math, and biology. It is typical to sit in small groups and collaborate on problems, and thought-provoking discussions among students and professors abound in this type of setting. These classes provide respite from my traditional science classes, where I sit in a crowded lecture hall, quietly observing and taking notes.
Have you interned anywhere?
I spent the past two summers participating in a research internship in a breast cancer immunology lab at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The experience opened my eyes to what a career in research may look like. I felt so privileged to be able to sit in on lectures by renowned cancer researchers and observe the groundbreaking discoveries taking place around me. I refined my critical thinking skills by being given the freedom to investigate certain areas independently. It also gave me the opportunity to build on my array of laboratory techniques and hone in on the areas of research I am most interested in.
Was there a skill you learned in Nanoscience that you found particularly useful to your internship?
My Nanoscience classes have provided me with countless practical tools to succeed outside of the classroom. I was grateful to have entered my internship with an understanding of things like how to maintain a lab notebook, how to present research, and how to thoroughly read and comprehend a scientific paper. The unique Nanoscience curriculum incorporates these invaluable 'real-life' lessons through requirements such as the faculty research seminars, undergraduate research rotations, and the class on professional dissemination of research.
Have you participated in undergraduate research? How did your Nanoscience education inform how you approached the project?
I first experienced undergraduate research in my sophomore year through the Nanoscience research rotations. While rotating through several labs, I gained clarity in what type of research I would like to devote my time to and was inspired to pursue a summer internship in a lab. Since then, I have participated in undergraduate research every semester. I currently work in a lab at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The lab blends my passions for cancer research and nanoscience, using techniques such as electron microscopy to image proteins mutated in breast cancer. I now feel comfortable discussing my research in both casual and professional settings thanks to the experience I have gained in my Nanoscience classes and lab work.
How has your Nanosciecne lab shaped the way in which you approach problem solving?
It may seem a little counterintuitive to use the phrase “thinking big picture” when considering that nanoscience is in fact the study of structures and materials on an incredibly small scale. Nevertheless, I often try to look at the bigger picture when I encounter a problem. My professors consistently encourage me to be bold in my ideas, to overturn conventions rather than allow them to limit me. Often this requires taking a step back and inspecting the problem from a new perspective or discussing it with a peer, but regardless of the approach, my nano studies have equipped me with the critical thinking skills I need to solve the problems I encounter.
How have you integrated your interests and hobbies into your coursework?
I have been able to take courses that align with my personal set of interests such as nanomedicine, immunology, and research ethics. However, even in classes that I wouldn’t expect to take a great deal of interest in, I still find myself captivated by the applications for health.
What are the benefits of double majoring in Nanoscience and Biological Sciences?
My biology background gives me a unique perspective on the applications of various nano-technologies for human health, and all of the considerations and consequences that go along with that. For example, if designing a new nanoparticle-based drug, a biologist will be essential to answer questions scuh as, 'How will this particle evade immune detection?' or 'What effects will this have on healthy tissue in the body?' Both biology and nanoscience are broad fields, but when integrated, they create a targeted and innovative sub-discipline. I love contemplating the ways traditional biological applications can be made even better by incorporating nanotechnologies.
What are your post graduation plans?
I am currently applying to post-baccalaureate research positions where I will be able to fully immerse myself in cancer research and further hone in on my investigative abilities. After growing as a researcher, I intend to apply to medical school, with the hope of combining my passions for both the research and clinical sides of medicine.
What impact do you ultimately hope to have on the world?
To cure cancer! Maybe that is too lofty a goal, but honestly if I can help just one person suffering from cancer, either through discoveries in the lab or through a medical treatment, I will have known all my hard work was worthwhile.
Can you speak to the overall impact Nanoscience has had on you as student? As a person?
Nano has transformed me as a student and a person as a whole. I now am the type of person who reads scientific journal articles every day, for fun! I have gained a lot of confidence in my abilities. I have learned how to approach and overcome challenges that may appear insurmountable, such as quantum physics. And I have learned how invaluable collaboration and critical thinking are. Overall, I feel well prepared to face whatever the real world has in store for me.
What has been the highlight of your Hokie career so far?
This is hard to answer, as I have loved so many aspects of my time at Virginia Tech. And while it sounds cliché, what I will remember the most are the typical weekdays when I go from a morning in the lab, straight to class, straight to my shift as an EMT at the rescue station, straight to the library to study, and then straight to bed. There is nothing better than falling asleep the moment my head hits the pillow, exhausted from a full day of doing what I love.