The Post-baccalaureate Experience

A recent trip to New York City included a talk/poster session hosted by Mt. Sinai.
This was the regional PREP symposium, held every year to give members of the three represented programs at UPenn, Mt. Sinai, and Albert Einsein the chance to talk about their research and network.

Given the end of my time as a post-bacc student, I figured it's worth to reflect briefly on these years.

Who dat
I went into it to stay with Maribel on our journey to become professional scientists. I also did it to give myself the opportunity to do research outside of my comfort zone, namely in something related to biology. This went well at the beginning, with the Lucki Lab serving as the place where I was introduced to animal handling and testing, as well as research approaches in psychopharmacology. However, I sucked at making myself really interested in the research topic I was handed, and despite collecting solid data, the perceptions of my performance might have come across as dispirited and unenthusiastic to the others. After getting the strong hint from Dr. Lucki and the lab's post-doc that I should try something else, I read between the lines and contacted a few other faculty whose interests aligned with what I did originally as an undergraduate.

Dr. Litt was gracious enough to let me try out his lab's research, despite of how candid I was regarding my lack of programming experience. Since then, I had the pleasure to befriend and work alongside exceptional researchers that really went out of their way to make me feel welcome, both socially and professionally. The lab culture was like night and day compared to the previous lab, and the research topic I jumped on was related to what I aim to study: cognition. My newfound motivation, coupled with the excellent research mentorship of Hoameng Ung, an MD-Ph.D. student in the Litt Lab, led to a productive year that is currently materializing as an original study publication. Without the post-bacc program, and therefore, without this research experience, who knows where my interests would've led to.

Another cool benefit of the post-bacc was moving to Philadelphia. Regardless of my reservations on the city's weather, I was introduced to Hockey, delicious food, and the culture of the East Coast. The transition was similar to the one I made from Calexico to Berkeley, but with far less culture shock. Although I will admit I find Californians to be a lot more friendly in comparison! Moving out, getting an apartment, growing closer to Maribel, and making new friends who have bright futures ahead of them, the experience was well worth it overall.

It baffles me why there aren't more post-bacc programs around, especially in the West Coast. The professional benefits are immense, due to the network you build, and the potential to publish and gather valuable research experience before you even apply to graduate school. This would be a good way for students to realize whether or not graduate school is a worthy path to take. My main gripe, however, is the lack of socializing that may occur within these programs. I've found that certain personalities are not willing to break out of their comfort zones unless forced to by mandatory meetings. It's disheartening that this is the case, because there are so few scientists of colors at this stage, so why not make an effort to get to know them? Networking should be emphasized, at the very minimum with one program-wide dinner a semester.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if these programs begin to spread to the University of California system, and if they make their way to UCSD, I'll definitely pop in to mentor. You've got to pay it forward.

P.S. An added benefit is that I know how to spell baccalaureate now

About Christian

Neuroscientist at UC San Diego

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