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Jenna DeSousa

Jenna DeSousa

Ph.D Graduate Student

Department of Chemistry, Vanderbilt University

" What advice would you give students who may have similar fears? When I graduated, I worried that I wasn’t going to be smart enough or be able to keep up with my peers. I feared that everyone around me was going to excel and I was going to be struggling just to keep up. However, when I started graduate school, I realized Purdue prepared me better than most and my fears were actually irrational. Imposter syndrome is a very real phenomenon and should not be taken lightly. The advice I would give to students with similar fears is to take a step back and realize where you started and where you are now. You may not realize how far you have come, but Purdue is a world-renowned University that prides itself on the education it provides its students. Each and every one of us have been through a rigorous educational program and have the tools we need to succeed after graduation. Additionally, the Alumni network is an amazing support system that extends all over the world and will always be there to help each other. "

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

I majored in Biochemistry (ACS accredited with Honors) through the College of Science and minored in Forensic Sciences. I graduated in May 2016.

What was your most compelling class and why?

I liked all of my lab classes (biology and chemistry) the most. I am a very hands-on person and the lab classes allowed me to see what I was trying to learn and understand in the lectures.

What are you currently working on?

As a graduate student, I have worked on several different chemistry projects. I have explored total synthesis, bioanalytical and inorganic chemistry. My current work is unpublished and is undergoing the invention disclosure process. Currently, I am developing a diagnostic device that uses polymers as capture agents rather than antibodies, which are unstable, expensive, and have cold chain requirements. This rapid diagnostic can help diagnose patients much earlier and faster as the test is both sensitive and specific. The technology is currently being used for the detection of Schistosomiasis in an attempt to help eliminate the parasitic disease.

What drove you to pursue your current career path?

Chemistry is a passion for many, and for myself, that passion originates from my dad who has Cystic Fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs. While there are several treatments to minimize symptoms, thousands of people are living with a disease where a cure is still yet to be discovered. My dad is one of many who endure a variety of treatments and take an innumerable amount of medications on a daily basis. My interest for chemistry began when I picked up every pill bottle and studied the prescription labels. Curiosity caused me to ask a lot of questions about the chemistry of drugs, and if it weren’t those moments growing up with my dad, I would not be where I am today. My purpose is to explore the scientific world of research, and a career in this field will allow me to give back to those who are studying by partaking in ground-breaking research to find a cure for those in need.

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

Coming from Purdue University, I was able to succeed in graduate school based on my undergraduate research experience. I worked as an undergraduate researcher for eight semesters and I could not have been more prepared for life as a graduate student.

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

After being in graduate school and starting to think about beginning my career in Industry, I have learned the importance of networking. I was fortunate enough to build amazing relationships with my Professors, peers, etc, and establish a network that has helped me to achieve my dreams thus far. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Take advantage of being a mere walk across campus from your Professors. Attend office hours. Participate in events related to your major. Build a foundational network at Purdue while you can that will help you achieve your dreams.

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