Friday, May 13, 2016

#ILookLikeAnEngineer: Mary Graves

Meet Mary, a graduating chemical engineer who is not only a MARC U-STAR Awardee, but also a Gordon Scholar and has interned at the National Institutes of Health in neuropharmacology.

Mary Graves
Chemical Engineering
Expected graduation date: June 2016

Why chemical engineering at UC San Diego?
Let me start by tell you why I chose to study at UC San Diego. During my senior year in high school, I was watching a program on KPBS about the science behind cereals, and UC San Diego chemical engineers who made Fruit Loops could measure and know how much sugar was on each loop. I was amazed but the detail that went into each piece of cereal and by the chemical engineers who understood every aspect. Chemical engineering has a plethora of applications and I wanted the knowledge that came with it, such as fluid mechanics which explains the laws governing all flow.

I thought it was amazing and wanted to be involved in food because of it. But then, I also have an interest in biomedical research because my grandmother died of a preventable cause when I was a kid. In addition, my family struggled with substance abuse and medical disorders, so I’ve gravitated toward research questions that will help us better understand why these things happen.

What was your transition into UC San Diego like as a transfer student?
Transitioning from community college was difficult. When I came to UC San Diego, it was a lot more competitive and I was no longer the best at what I wanted to do. Everyone else was the best, too - and you have to be, to get into the engineering program here. It did push me to work harder but sometimes that was not enough. I found my outlet through extracurricular activities.

Can you describe your involvement in different organizations here at UC San Diego?
During my time at UCSD I was part of the Academic Enrichment Program (AEP). I was awarded the competitive MARC Honor fellowship which funded research on and off campus and travel for two years. I presented my research at the 2014 SACNAS conference in San Antonio, TX. While at the conference I met the director of summer internships for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. I explained my research interests, long term goals, the research I was presenting and desire to participate in the program. The program has a less than 10% acceptance rate so I did not think I would get in. However, I was accepted. It was a great experience and I would recommend NIH and DC to everyone.

The Gordon scholars were a great leadership development program. It prepared me to be an effective and understanding leader through team building exercises and discussions.

Being an AICHE officer allowed me to use the skills from the Gordon program. I coordinated events with upwards of 300 participants in an effort to give back to the community and showcase the science behind chemical engineering through demonstrations.

What are your career goals?
I want to go into academia, but there isn’t a lot of flexibility unless you get the grants for it. I’ve done modeling behavior with drugs, such as cocaine and now I’m working with neural modulations. We are looking for correlations to see if people can recall memories. I’m also interested in neuroscience at the intersection between neuroscience and pharmaceuticals. I interned at a neuropharmacology lab for about a year and a half. I was the National Institutes of Health (NIH), working on and designing new drugs.

What are three things that make you an individual?

  1. I really like hot sauce. Louisiana hot sauce. JalapeƱos, habaneros, serranos. Every hot sauce.
  2. I’m a really good listener.
  3. I have good tenacity and persistence, which is what makes me a good engineer. Engineering is where you learn how to take defeat.   

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