Sarah Jenkins, a student in the Pharmacology/Toxicology program, studies environmental agents (bisphenol A, TCDD, etc.) and their impact on breast cancer susceptibility. She chose UAB for her graduate studies for the open and friendly atmosphere. “Everyone was so friendly. Many of the other places I interviewed had such a sterile environment, with people walking down the hallways with their heads down and never speaking. UAB had a much more open atmosphere. I was allowed unsupervised time with the current grad student in the department. That says a lot of a program, when you still get favorable opinions from the current students without a faculty member lurking nearby.”
Sarah says her mentor, Dr. Coral Lamartiniere, has been a great influence for her. She also credits other graduate students for being important influences. “It was great having three incredibly intelligent graduate students ahead of me when I first joined this lab. I could easily see traits they had that made them as successful as they each were.”
There is no one experience in particular at UAB that she considers the most rewarding. “Just realizing how much different I am now than I was when I first graduated college [is rewarding}]. I still have a long way to go, but going through graduate school here at UAB has really allowed me to gain confidence and grow up in ways I hadn’t during college.”
The motivation behind Sarah’s research is personal. She explains, “In addition to being a cancer survivor myself, I’ve seen three of my aunts battle breast cancer, one of which who has since passed away. It’s a heartbreaking thing to witness. A lot of times we get so ingrained in what we’re doing, especially if it applies to a specific disease, that it’s easy to forget the human part of things. My mentor is involved in one of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers and the annual meeting draw research scientists as well as breast cancer advocates, many of whom are breast cancer survivors themselves. After going to these meetings and interacting with these survivors, it’s hard not to be inspired to work as hard as you possibly can after seeing the enthusiasm these women have for furthering cancer research. Their enthusiasm is contagious."
The advice Sarah gives to other graduate students is some that she received herself. “If you don’t go to work every day and think that what you’re working on is the most important thing you could possibly be doing in your field, then it isn’t worth it. You need a lot of qualities in order to survive graduate school, and passion for what you’re doing is probably one of the most important qualities.”
Sarah has a predoctoral fellowship through UAB’s Cancer Prevention and Control training grant. She also received a Scholar-In-Training award from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Her future plans involve clinical cancer research.