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Graduate Student in Wistar/USciences Cancer Biology Program Balances Research, Education, and Family

By The Wistar Institute

Published on September 19, 2019

Gretchen AliceaGretchen Alicea PhD'20 (cancer biology) is a graduate student at The Wistar Institute and is enrolled in the PhD Program in Cancer Biology overseen jointly by Wistar and University of the Sciences. She has a lot on her plate: She is conducting exciting research for her PhD thesis, has just submitted a paper for publication and is preparing to graduate next year, all the while raising two small children. Yet, she exudes energy and enthusiasm.

Born and educated in Puerto Rico and trained as a research technician in Tampa at the Moffit Cancer Center, Alicea had her sights set on entering a graduate program. Upon speaking with Wistar’s Meenhard Herlyn, DVM, DSc, professor in the Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program and director of Wistar’s Melanoma Research Center, about his lab’s research, she knew Wistar was the place to be. Dr. Herlyn advised her to apply to the Wistar/USciences PhD Program in Cancer Biology.

“I am passionate about cancer research and I think melanoma is a particularly exciting field because of the availability of several experimental models,” said Alicea. “So, I jumped at the opportunity to work on my PhD thesis at Wistar, which is a prestigious and renowned place for cancer research.” 

“Enrollment in the program is selective,” said Brian Keith, PhD, dean of Biomedical Studies at Wistar. “But we base our selection process on the candidate’s drive, motivation and previous lab experience more than on their grades on paper. We find that our students hit the ground running.”

Alicea was a successful candidate because she had worked in a lab as a technician and during that time, she had contributed to the publication of two papers.

“Candidates are expected to be motivated and demonstrate that in their application to the program,” said Alicea. “They must show critical thinking and have a well-thought-out idea of the particular labs they would like to join.”

Coming from a warm country and having lived in Florida, Philadelphia was Gretchen’s first approach with the Northeast winter. “I hated the cold but being accepted in the Program was worth dealing with it for sure.”

Alicea remembers the first two years as very demanding yet exciting, as students are required to take courses, apply their skills while rotating in three Wistar labs (to find the best fit) and also teach undergraduate classes.

“Even if it was intense, the experience trained me in juggling different tasks, which I think is a very valuable skill for a researcher,” said Alicea. “I think the program sets you up to be a well-rounded scientist.” 

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Categories: News, Student, Research, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Cancer Biology, Proven Everywhere