With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. Each spring we publish brief “Alumni Updates” where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we post interviews with our alumni. Today we are excited to post an interview with Priyankaa Bhatia (’17). We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.
What year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?
I graduated from Baylor in May of 2017. I studied Biochemistry and was in BIC and the Honors Program.
What have you been up to since graduating from Baylor? Tell us some about your work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). How did you get connected with this opportunity?
My initial plan after graduating was to take a gap year and gain some lab experience before going for a PhD in biomedical research. I had looked into a few locations in Texas (medical complexes and schools) that offered lab tech positions for recent bachelor grads. While I was job hunting, an old family friend who used to work for the WHO told my family that the NIH offers a great training program for “postbacs.” The NIH hires bachelors graduates and places them in an NIH intramural research lab on any campus in the US and provides them with a 1-2 year research experience.
I applied and got interviewed by a couple of researchers in Baltimore and on the main campus in Bethesda and eventually got hired by a lab in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. So I am a full researcher in this lab in Bethesda and have my own project and responsibilities. Postbacs on the NIH campus do receive training but are looked on as research peers and are expected to produce results and present and forward the mission of the lab they are in. There is also a lot that the NIH does to help with the application and transition into graduate/medical school and onto further careers. They have a great training department and a hold lot of seminars and workshops for trainees and fellows and provide us with career and graduate fairs throughout the year.
What do you enjoy most about your work at the NIH? How has the experience shaped your ideas of what you want to do in the future?
I like the diversity of things I get to do on the NIH campus. While my research is my main focus, I get to go to a variety of talks by leading researchers from all over the world. I get to attend research festivals, career workshops, grad school prep seminars, application workshops, grant writing seminars and even a graduate science course that my lab paid for. Its helped me learn more about the biotech industry and what that would entail as a future career choice.
Do you have any advice for BIC students who might want to pursue opportunities similar to your current position with the NIH?
One mistake I made while applying was that I treated it like school applications and applied for jobs too early. Remember, these are jobs, so they aren’t looking for people a year in advance. The NIH however, does start hiring early in the spring.
If you know you want to do a gap year before graduate school, start looking up possible positions and jobs and don’t just move home and then expect to find something during the summer. It will be harder to motivate yourself and you’ll be limiting yourself geographically. Be willing to move far away! It will only be for 1-2 years.
How has your BIC education influenced your life and/or work since leaving Baylor? Did your BIC education influences the way you view scientific inquiry in any way?
I can see that BIC has influenced the way I write, the way I do research and the way I present findings to my PI. Even when asked to look up something simple or when trying to write up a preliminary protocol, I am subconsciously putting the skills I learned through BIC to work. I am also very comfortable with public speaking and interviews and I do credit that to my time in BIC small group and to the amount I had to verbally present my ideas in class.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in BIC?
There are a lot of good memories. A few that stand out are the late-night rhetoric writing sessions and WC exam study sessions. While not fun at the time, in retrospect I realize how much I bonded with people and how well prepared I was because of those study sessions.
Aside from that broad answer, getting extra credit for dressing as World Cultures characters for Halloween was particularly fun.
Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?
My Biblical Heritage class has always stuck with me and has really pushed my study of the historical context of the Bible. I am even very motivated to visit Israel and the Jordan soon (am saving up for that!). Because I took that class over the summer, I got a very unique experience in that small class and I remember what I learned there fondly.
Many alumni recall the theme of the examined life and/or the study of world cultures from their time in BIC. Do either of these concepts still influence you today in your life or work?
I do find myself talking about Examined life when I recount stories of my freshman year. The concept of a vocation has become much more real to me in the last few months as I am preparing to apply to grad school and consider my future career choices. It has also become relevant as I realize that striking a work-life balance is very intentional and much harder to achieve than a college-life balance.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Transitioning from being a full-time student (I lived in the HRC for my three years at Baylor) to working full time was difficult at first. It was a little weird not having any obligations after work and took me a while to start pushing myself to not waste my free time. Once I had to start studying for the GRE and looking into graduate programs, I had to remind myself that my day doesn’t end when I come home from work and it was good to be busy in a variety of ways.