There’s a popular quote that says: “knowledge is useless without action”. Our very own MCB leader, Jennifer Rodriguez, is a prime example of this. Her dedication and hard work towards her experience at the University of Illinois is truly admirable. As an upcoming senior and pre-med student, she has certainly taken action on campus. When Jennifer was 13 years old, she started having pain in her stomach. She had to be rushed to the ER where she found out she had appendicitis. The whole process, from when arriving at the hospital to the surgery and recovery made Jennifer realized that her ultimate goal would be to go to med school. Jennifer said: “I got to see how the doctors and nurses were. I was only 13 years old and I thought everything was so cool. It really got me interested in surgery.”. Due to her interest, Jennifer recently shadowed an anesthesiologist, as she mentioned: “I know I want to be in the operating room”.
To accomplish her goal of going to medical school, Jennifer has done everything in her power to take advantage of every single opportunity that has been available to her at the University of Illinois and the School of MCB. She recently participated in a 2-week summer study abroad program in Rome through the Department of Community Health where she was able to compare the Italian health care system with that of the United States. She has also been doing research in Dr. Michael Spinella’s laboratory in the Department of Comparative Biosciences, where she has been testing drug resistance in a variety of cell lines. Jennifer was awarded the Summer Research Opportunities Program Fellowship which allowed her to work on Dr. Spinella’s laboratory during the summer as well. When looking for an undergraduate research position, Jennifer learned to be patient and determined. She explained: “I didn’t know how to get started and I attended the MCB undergraduate research workshop. It really helped to hear from actual students in that workshop and how they reached out to investigators. I recommend looking for researchers on campus that are interested in what you are interested in. I compiled a list of professors I wanted to work with and sent them an email that was designed specifically for them. I included why I was interested in their lab. A lot of professors didn’t get back to me but that’s ok. It is important not to get discouraged if professors don’t email you back, just keep trying, move on to the next one on your list. I emailed more professors and eventually found one that I liked which ended up being my PI’s wife. She was very interested in me, but she had accepted a lot of undergraduate students already. She told me to email her back in a few months to see if she had room then. I waited and emailed her later and she suggested I should work in her husband’s lab. I met with him and discussed his research. You have to show that you are interested in what they are doing. It shouldn’t be that you are doing it just to add it to your resume, you should do it because you enjoy it or are interested in it. I also came to UIUC for that reason, I heard this was a huge research university, so I wanted to get involved in it. Start early, anytime during sophomore year. When I joined the lab, I was taking MCB 253 and we were doing western blots and a month into Dr. Spinella’s lab we also started doing western blots. That really helped. Learning about it and then actually doing it in my research lab. I also learned a lot of things that I didn’t learn in class which was really cool.”
In addition, Jennifer has been a Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN) for almost 2 years. She took the classes when she was a sophomore. She was able to work as a CNA last summer for Heartland Health Care Center. Jennifer said: “If you really want hands-on experience with patient contact and patient care, I suggest becoming a CNA or EMT. CNA positions have a lot of turnovers, so they are constantly looking for people”. As a CNA, Jennifer makes sure that all the patients at the Care Center are properly taken care of and all their needs are completely satisfied. In Jennifer’s own words: “I have to check on them every two hours and make sure everything is fine. Check if they need to be repositioned, if they need snacks, do activities, assist them to the bathroom, bed, wheelchair. I’m just there to help them and make sure they are comfortable”. During the semester, she has been able to keep her CNA position since Heartland was able to work with her schedule: “When I told them school was starting they worked with me and said that they only require I work one shift a month. I thought that was great since it works with my schedule and I am also able to make money to pay for books and other essential things”. Jennifer has also recently become a medical scribe and will be working in a gastroenterology department. As if she wasn’t busy enough, she has also worked as a teaching assistant for CHEM 104 where she managed the merit discussion section and she is planning to do it again for CHEM 101. She said: “It was really fun, I really enjoyed it. It was interesting being on the other side of where I was once before. I didn’t think I would be there one day, it was so interesting”.
Jennifer has clearly kept herself busy with her extracurricular activities and the MCB curriculum. She has good time management strategies that have allowed her to stay focused and organized. She offered really good advice for other students: “Whenever I have free time, I actually try to use it to work on assignments. If you have an upcoming exam, try not to cram, try to review the material every day just for a little bit. Even if it is 30 minutes, as long as you are getting something done. That is really helpful because then when you have 2-3 hours to actually study it becomes so much easier to go over everything you have been slowly reviewing. It’s like you already understand it. I also like waking up early and having classes in the morning, that way I have the afternoon free to do whatever. Don’t take weekends for granted. Get stuff done, go to the library. Sometimes people make it seem like there’s not enough time but if I have time to do all the things I am doing and also have fun, you can do it too. I also study with my friends. Find a friend group that doesn’t pressure you to go out all the time and actually supports your study time. Know what is important, know when your deadlines are. I have calendars and know how long it will take you to get things done. Know yourself.”
Regarding her future plans, Jennifer is planning to take a gap year. She said: “I don’t think it is a bad thing to take a gap year, most people think it’s because you have to improve your GPA or because you really messed up on your MCAT, but sometimes other things happen. It’s a good break to take before committing to medical school. I’ve had four years of hard work and this might be the last break I can take for a while, especially if I want to specialize in something. I can also work during that time and save up.”
Jennifer is definitely an amazing student with great ambition and work ethic. She has definitely taken advantage of all the opportunities available to her on campus and has looked for guidance from peers, professors, and academic advisors to take full advantage of her time as an undergraduate student. We are confident that she will go far and make MCB and the University of Illinois proud. When asked what advice she would give her freshman self, she had this to say: “Do seek guidance, a mentor. Find a good friend group that encourages you to achieve your goals. Don’t get discouraged if you do bad in an exam, it’s ok. Some people might not need to study as hard as you but that’s ok too. Go to office hours. Start studying early for exams, you can’t blow it off. If you wait till the end, you are just creating unnecessary stress for yourself. Stay positive. You’ll survive! As a freshman, I was worried about everything, but you’ll get there. As a senior in high school, I was quiet and never thought I would get involved in so many things in college, but I did! I feel great about it. Don’t be afraid to dive in into whatever you are interested in.”