UC Merced Experience Eases Transition to Grad School for Alumna

UC Merced Experience Eases Transition to Grad School for Alumna

When Jo-Anne Rodriguez said goodbye to UC Merced in May, she knew she was leaving a special place.

"I didn't go home, ever. I was on campus all day," the 2009 alumnafondly recalls. "I absolutely loved it, though, because UC Merced is a great school."

Now Rodriguez is in Baltimore, enrolled in the University of Maryland's pharmaceutical science doctoral program.

"It was a tough move but I'm getting used to the East Coast life," she said in a recent e-mail. " Grad schoolis certainly as difficult as they say it will be, if not harder."

As a molecular and cellular biology majorat UC Merced, Rodriguez interned for professor Mike Colvinin the computational biologyprogram.

"It's a lot of fun to work with someone like Jo-Anne, who is clearly going somewhere on her way to doing very interesting research," Colvin said.

As Colvin's research assistant, Rodriguez worked on a project in collaboration with Lawrence Livermore Labs and UC Berkeley with the goal of developing a filtration system that uses macro bio-molecules to turn salt water into drinkable water. Researchers at UC Merced, including Rodriguez, have been working with computer simulations of the molecular dynamics fusion constants of ions forced through a carbon-nano tube.

"We use computer simulations to validate designs they would build," Colvin explained. "The drawback is that simulations are not perfect, but they can rule out bad designs. This is a big trend in biology nationwide, but the percentage of students working on it is among the highest in our biology program."

The experience gave Rodriguez an edge when applying to graduate school.

"UC Merced has definitely prepared me for this program," Rodriguez said. "I'm able to recognize a lot of the information presented to me in classes from my undergradwork at UC Merced. I've already learned a lot of the biological molecules, interactions and such to recognize what they are."

In a nutshell, Rodriguez has been able to take what she learned at UC Merced and now apply it to pharmaceutical sciences as a doctoral student.

Right now, she's working with a computational chemist on a project that uses computer-aided drug design to look at how the antibiotic erythromycin interacts with a specific ribosome.

"Erythromycin treats respiratory infections, but somehow the ribosome is mutating and becoming resistant to the antibiotic," she said.

She hopes to find a way to either prevent the mutation or to work around it, something she's confident she can do thanks to the foundation laid for her at UC Merced.

"Undergraduate classes are certainly easier than Ph.D.-level classes, but the opportunities UC Merced offered prepared me for the balancing act that is grad school."

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