Student Spotlight - Jennifer Bradley

A student posing for photoJennifer Bradley is a current graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics in the School of Medicine.  Here is what Jennifer has to say about her experience as a graduate student:

Describe your desired career path and current program of study.

I am hoping to become an academic professor within a University setting. My current program of study is Microbiology and Immunology with a concentration in Molecular Biology and Genetics. Acquiring a better understanding of a research question for me is rewarding. In science, most projects lead to even more questions, which is something I enjoy. Resuscitation research is a field that still has many unanswered questions. I believe further research will determine some of the basic science pathways involved and will focus on a better understanding of how cardiac arrest (CA) affects the heart and brain. Much is left to discover regarding why some individuals can wake up from an induced coma and can still have an enjoyable quality of life after CA while most never do. I am hopeful to be among the researchers pursuing answers to these questions.

How did you become interested in this field?

I had a wonderful Microbiology professor at my undergraduate college, Berea College. She was my advisor and discussed with me opportunities in research. Thanks to her recommendation I was a summer volunteer in a Biochemistry laboratory at the University of Kentucky. This was my first taste of academic research. I was able to work as a Microbiologist for the state of West Virginia after graduating with my BA in Biology. I realized I enjoyed the field but kept asking why and how protocols worked. My supervisor informed me to know why I would need to go back to school. I ended up interviewing and being accepted as a laboratory technician with Dr. Harvey Schenkein at VCU in 2008. Dr. Schenkein hypothesized antibodies pregnant women created from normal mouth bacteria, when introduced to the bloodstream from sores in the mouth, could lead to deliveries of low birth weight babies. My first principal investigator and research manager were phenomenal mentors. They allowed me to ask questions and generate my own experiments. My laboratory manager handed me a grant that was awarded and stated: “Ok, read this and tell me how you are going to do the research”. At first, I was frustrated because I wanted him to tell me how to do the research as I previously worked for a public health laboratory that operated from standard operating procedures. I now look back on this moment fondly because for me to design the experiments I felt I had to learn more about the science. This was when my graduate career began.

What do you like best about your program of study, research, and/or classes?

Each class, project, and position has helped me evolve and continue to discover what I am passionate about. I believe the quality of research and work ethic needed to advance science is as crucial as the discovery itself. Acquiring a better understanding of a research question for me is rewarding. In science, most projects lead to even more questions, which is something I enjoy. I am fascinated with inflammatory mediators that play a major role in disease. The P. gingivalis study started my interest in cytokines and antibodies. Every position I have held at VCU and thesis/dissertation has a recurrent theme with inflammation and disease.

So far, what has been most memorable about your experiences in graduate school at VCU?

I am a non-traditional student as I have pursued my master's and am now pursuing my Ph.D. part-time while working full time. My most memorable moment was when I went to speak with the Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics regarding my course work and application. She was understanding and took the time to speak with me regarding the program. Our current director is no different, his door is always open for discussion regarding my academic path. The faculty are here to help and many faculty have gone above and beyond for discussion of my course work and the next steps needed for my program. This is vital as research is based on collaboration. It is great to see the collaboration of faculty with students along this journey.

What advice would you give prospective students about pursuing a graduate degree at VCU?

Networking is vital. Not only with currently enrolled students, but also with faculty and staff. You don't know the answer unless you ask. Please be willing to ask. No question is a dumb question. I have asked many over the years and will continue to do so.