Colin McDowell
Molecular Biosciences Graduate Student, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington
Colin McDowell

Ready to research

Colin transferred to Northwestern prior to his junior year with plans to pursue a career in biochemical research. In addition to participating in faculty-led research, he completed an internship with Exemplar Genetics, a local biomedical research company that uses miniature swine as models for understanding human disease. Now a graduate student at Washington State, Colin is a fellow with the ARCS Foundation for the advancement of graduate scientific research, as well as a trainee in a biotechnology program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

What led you to pursue a doctorate in molecular biosciences?
During my time at Northwestern, I enjoyed seeing chemistry applied to biological settings, especially in my research with Dr. Varpness. This confirmed my desire to work as a biochemical researcher. When I discussed my plans with my advisers in the chemistry and biology departments, they strongly recommended that I pursue a doctorate to support my goal of conducting professional research. Both the knowledge imparted through my classes at Northwestern and the research skills I gained in the lab setting have served me well in my graduate studies.

As part of your studies, you are working as a trainee with the NIH Protein Biotechnology Training Program. What does that program involve?
Each year, one or two students from each of Washington State’s six participating departments are nominated for this training program. As a trainee, I have the opportunity to complete a biotechnology internship alongside my graduate work, and I get to engage with other trainees during monthly professional and scientific development meetings. Additionally, all the trainees organize and host an annual symposium featuring research presentations, poster sessions and talks from experts in the biotechnology field. Because of my participation in this program, I will earn a graduate certificate in protein biotechnology in addition to my doctoral degree.

What are the strengths of Northwestern’s chemistry department?
Northwestern’s chemistry coursework prepared me for a smooth transition to graduate school. The department’s tutoring center is an amazing resource when learning new material, and the excellent chemistry faculty care for their students and work hard to see them excel. Professors are willing to take time out of their day to ensure that students are learning material and understanding how it fits within the larger context of the field.

How did Northwestern prepare you to lead a life of significance?
Although most any institution is capable of imparting knowledge, NWC ensured that I graduated with a clear understanding of why that knowledge is important and how it can be used for a greater purpose. My interactions with faculty, staff, tutors and fellow students prepared me for my future and helped me understand why I do what I do.