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James Welch

James Welch

Research Associate I

Modern Meadow

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"My biggest fear as I was about to graduate was continuing on the track I was on. I was rejected from every PhD program I applied to and left Purdue to go live with my parents, luckily not in their basement. I was eventually able to pick myself backup, working through rejections from jobs I was applying for until I was accepted at a company whose trajectory I had been following for a couple years. My advice is to realize that no matter the situation, whether you're the cause or not, you have the ability to change it. That might take reaching out to people around you or working on yourself but you have the ability to take action and make change. "


What was your major/minor at Purdue and when did you graduate?

Major: Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology.

Minors: Spanish, Creative Writing, and Biotechnology.


What was your most compelling class and why?

The most compelling class I took at Purdue was Principles of Systems and Synthetic Biology. Based in the ABE department, it helped me reinterpret my knowledge of biology into numbers and mathematical models which could be applied in new ways to old problems. 


What are you currently working on?

I currently work on genetically engineering microbes to increase the titer and quality of collagen. Which we assemble into biomaterials which mimic leather. My work focuses mainly on the genetics of the cells and enzymatic reactions in the cellular environment.


What drove you to pursue your current career path?

During my first year of high school, I enrolled in several engineering classes which gave me tools and words to describe problem solving. As I progressed through school I found myself drawn to biology more and more, its complexity and abundance of problems made it exceedingly interesting; and after watching Jurassic Park and reading Oryx and Crake I found the field of synthetic biology. A field which knits together engineering and biology to solve problems in a variety of fields. 


What did you do after graduating?

I started with Lilly about one month after graduating.  I worked as a scientist supporting the manufacturing of the bulk drug substance for human insulin at a very large scale. 


Did you pursue internships/co-ops, research experiences, volunteer, or join student organizations while you attended Purdue?

I took full advantage of Purdue's research environment. I obtained an internship at Promega, an amazing biotech company. I worked in the lab of Dr. Kasinski studying microRNAs and their relationship to lung cancers. Additionally, I joined the Purdue iGEM team which applies engineering processes to biology problems using Synthetic Biology. At the end of the year each iGEM team presents at a Giant Jamboree (which I will be a judge in!) showing their genetic constructs, mathematical modeling, and novel research. You can follow them @Purdue iGEM on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and join the club! 
The experiences I was able to have a Purdue helped me find the areas and aspects of science and biology I found most compelling. I found an amazing group of friends and scientists during my time with iGEM. Dr. Kasinski's lab was an incredible supportive environment which challenged me to formulate hypotheses and design better experiments.


Are there any special accomplishments you've achieved after college that you might not have been able to do without your college experiences?

I was recently selected to be a judge for the iGEM (the international genetically engineered machines) jamboree. iGEM was a club I participated in during college which shaped the areas of science I want to research and how I plan to pursue it. 


Do you still keep in contact with any of your classmates or professors?

There are a lot of former Purdue colleagues currently at Lilly so I see them often.  I have also recently gotten re-involved with Lilly’s recruiting efforts at Purdue so I have had a chance to get back on campus to see either former professors or to meet current professors.


What advice would you give to prospective or current Purdue students about how to make the best use of what Purdue offers?

Spend time developing relationships for every facet of your personality. Your study group does not have to be your friend group, the mentor you go to for personal problems need not be the one you ask about professional ones. Purdue offers an incredible diversity of people, departments, and opportunities. There will always be others interested in whatever niche you find yourself in, whether that be bad puns or world changing ideas. 

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