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Eukaryon

Philip Freund: My Path to Graduate School

Philip Freund
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045

When I entered Lake Forest College in 2017, I knew that I wanted to study biology, as I was interested in possibly conducting research in the field. Little did I know that less than three years later I’d be in graduate school at the world-class Weizmann Institute!

Before transferring to LFC, I completed two Associates degrees at the College of Lake County: Science and Arts. It was there I discovered my love for biology; the subject is so complex and elegant it is easy to get drawn in. Despite centuries of progress, humanity has barely scratched the surface of the biological sciences. The possibilities for further progress are near limitless and one could spend many lifetimes researching even a simple biological system and never fully understand how it works (this is an important fact that helps maintain biologists’ job security)!

My first semester at LFC was a great one and included one of the most challenging yet rewarding classes I’ve taken throughout my career (including a semester of graduate school): Dr. DebBurman’s BIOL/NEUR 130 (Deadly Shapes, Hostage Brains). This class exposed me to the world of neuroscience research and helped spark a passion not just in biology research, but in the field of neuroscience. 

Based on this fascination, I decided to participate in the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFUMS) summer fellowship program run by RFUMS and LFC. Working in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory examining the distribution of an ion channel in the amygdala was a wonderful experience, but I decided that my interests were more on the molecular side of neuroscience. The next summer, having been accepted to the same research program, I worked in a different research laboratory. After starting I quickly realized that the type of research being conducted was a much better fit for me. The new laboratory emphasized the need to minimize assumptions in neuroscience, and to be able to justify one’s research at the molecular level. Additionally, I learned to be careful when applying inferences made from molecular experiments to macromolecular scales. Even today I insist on being able to “connect the dots” and refrain from making assumptions.

After spending two summers conducting research, I decided the best career path would be to go directly to graduate school to study neurobiology. At LFC I minored in Neuroscience and made sure to take the molecular neuroscience and behavioral neuroscience classes (Neuron to Brain/Brain to Behavior). These were some of my favorite undergraduate classes, and I even had the privilege of peer-mentoring molecular neuroscience for a semester to learn more about the subject. My senior seminar with Dr. Maine (the Nobel Prizes) was very informative as it taught me how to make relevant presentations and read many papers on short notice and develop a cohesive understanding of a topic on my own. Even today I continue to refer back to my notes from these classes and am happy to say that I use what I learned in college!

Outside of classes, I had a desire to expand my professional skills. I’ve always had a passion for writing, so I joined Eukaryon as a member of the review board. This was a great experience, and the next year I became head of the copy-edit board. I also took the opportunity to refine my photography - a skill which is surprisingly useful in biology - and made many photo artwork contributions to Eukaryon. After graduation, I wanted to keep my writing skills current and continue to help Eukaryon grow, so I became the journal’s first alumni consultant. 

The fall of 2018 saw the task of applying to graduate school programs. I took the GRE, made sure my letters of reference were in order, and started writing my personal statement. Choosing graduate programs was one of the more difficult steps for me. There were a few programs that I knew I wanted to apply to: the Weizmann Institute was my top choice, and RFUMS was also a good option. Beyond these programs I was a bit lost as to where to apply to, so I highly recommend that applicants start looking for good programs early: finding laboratories and locations that are a good fit is crucial.

In the spring of 2019, I had a number of graduate school interviews within the span of a few weeks. Having various Skype calls and flying to locations for in-person interviews disrupted my LFC academic schedule, but the professors at LFC were very accommodating and understanding - one professor even let me use his office for an interview! After finishing the interviews, I decided that the best option would be for me to go to my choice school - the Weizmann Institute of Science/מכון ויצמן למדע in Rehovot, Israel. Putting aside the excellence of the institute and program, I’ve always wanted to live in Israel (and was especially fed up with the Chicago weather after the 2019 polar vortex). I find exploring a new country to be mentally stimulating, which inevitably bleeds into my academic work.

Seven months later, in October 2019, I matriculated into the Feinberg Graduate School at the Weizmann. It was a rapid transition from life at home; my first laboratory rotation was less than a week after the program started, and classes started soon after. But months into the program, I can happily say that attending Weizmann was the right decision. My experience at LFC gave me a great background in neurobiology and in scientific research more generally, and these skills have translated seamlessly into graduate school.

As recommendations for prospective graduate school students, I would suggest the following: beyond coursework and laboratory research at LFC, think about the skills you will need after graduation. If you want to improve your reading, writing, and publication skills, consider joining Eukaryon. Attend scientific conferences (such as CSfN) as well as the seminar series talks at LFC. This will expose you to a wide range of research and help you identify the subjects you are most interested in. As an example, I met one speaker at LFC that was discussing a subject (synaptic plasticity) that I have an intense interest in, and as it turned out he had toured the Weizmann Institute and met researchers I was interested in working with! This kind of coincidence happens all the time in Israel; it’s a small country and everyone’s up for a game of Jewish Geography. You should also learn to expect the unexpected in research; it’s a rare joy when your experiments work perfectly on the first try, and failure is the norm. Moving to Israel has kept me on my toes in this regard - I hear a rocket or fire alarm almost weekly and have resorted to hoarding butter due to the shortage!

I would like to extend my thanks to my professors and peers at LFC - without you I would not be where I am today. You have taught me much over the past few years and made my path to graduate school a great one!

Disclaimer

Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College.

Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.