Name: Shweta Patel
Hometown: Birmingham, AL
Graduation Date: Spring 2011
How would you describe your research? I study whether certain foods and beverages have an impact on the occurrence of breast cancer - specifically, whether polyphenols (found in green tea) and sulforaphane (found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli sprouts) decrease the incidence of the disease. This research, which is conducted in Dr. Trygve Tollefsbol's Cancer and Aging lab in the Department of Biology, will contribute to understanding the epigenetic mechanisms of green tea polyphenols and sulforaphane on breast cancer prevention and to develop chemo-preventive cancer therapeutic drugs.
When and how did you first get involved in research? My scientific interest originated in sweat stains and antiperspirants. My project, investigating the source of yellow sweat stains on shirts, won first prize at my high school and the Community OutReach Development Award at the regional Science Fair. This experience afforded me the opportunity to attend the ChemTeach Program at UAB tuition-free. So in the summer of 2005, I learned about the biochemical aspects of collagen. My first lab experience included everything from extracting collagen from four rat-tail tendons to its purification. The sophistication of the experiments, the ominous presence of the expensive equipment, and the dauntingly qualified mentors at first overwhelmed me, but the faculty and members of the lab were very supportive, thus I became quite comfortable and excited about the work, which ultimately led me to pursue research early in college. It was my subsequent lab experience in summer 2008 as a member of the Summer In Biomedical Sciences (SIBS) Program that cemented my decision to opt for a career in translational research. Here I realized that the amount of work performed was not always proportional to the outcome because of inherent obstacles: research seems to be 95% failure and 5% success. Despite this, I still come back every day because the sweet moment of success overshadows all the failures.
How has research enhanced your educational experience? My research experience has influenced my academic and personal education tremendously. Academically, I have improved my problems-solving and troubleshooting skills. Personally, I have learned to multi-task efficiently as well as to realize my mistakes are often steps toward the right answer.
What has been your favorite part of your research experience? The favorite aspect of my research experience has been the opportunities it has provided for me. In the summer of 2009, I participated in the Amgen Scholars Program at UC Berkeley, not only performing cutting-edge research but also exploring the Bay Area. In addition, I was honored to win the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship because of my research experiences.
What are your career goals? Currently, I am applying to medical school. My long-term professional goal is to practice medicine at a leading medical research university, along with teaching and conducting research, where scientific projects and clinical practices complement each other. A career in academic medicine excites me in three ways: (1) its clinical services to patients, (2) its research that can be implemented in a clinical setting, and (3) teaching future doctors and scientists.