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Rebecca Ahrens-Nicklas of St. Louis, Mo., obtained a M.D. and Ph.D. at Weill Cornell Medical College in physiology, biophysics and systems biology
Why did you choose Cornell?
I was incredibly impressed by the clinical training and research opportunities and liked all of the students I met when I interviewed. There was such a diversity of backgrounds and life experiences among the students; I knew it would be a great community to join.
What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Next year, I will be enrolled in the combined training program in pediatrics and medical genetics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In 10 years, I hope to be a physician-scientist on faculty at an academic medical center. I would like to both see patients with genetic illnesses and run a basic science laboratory investigating the genetic basis of disease.
What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
My seven years at Cornell have provided me such a diversity of amazing experiences. These moments have covered the spectrum from incredibly lighthearted and fun experiences with friends to painfully poignant and serious interactions with critically ill patients. My most jubilant memory is the day that my Ph.D. thesis technique worked after years of troubleshooting and tweaking. I'll never forget the excitement I felt as my lab mates and I watched an isolated mouse heart cell beat with a human rhythm for the first time.
After college, what did you do?
I spent a year teaching health, chemistry and biology to eighth- and ninth-grade students at a bilingual school in the Dominican Republic.
Why is your research area important/why are you passionate about it?
Both inherited and drug-induced cardiac arrhythmias can have devastating consequences, including sudden cardiac death. These arrhythmias often affect young otherwise healthy individuals. Our understanding of who is at-risk for life threatening cardiac rhythm disturbances is very limited. Therefore, it is essential that we develop better methods to identify both mutations and drugs that predispose patients to lethal cardiac electrical abnormalities.
While at Cornell, what extracurricular activities or other accomplishments were important to you or you are most proud of?
Co-founding FACES, the Female Association of Clinicians, Educators and Scientists, a women's mentoring and networking group for physician-scientists, during my first year at Cornell. This group has provided support and career advice for both trainees and faculty members and has also been at the forefront of many policy changes within our Cornell community. FACES-led initiatives have included the development of the nation's first family leave policy for M.D./Ph.D. students and backup child care services for students.
Do you have an unusual background in some way that has influenced your scholarship?
During my training at Cornell, I was lucky enough to get married and, later, we had our daughter, Amelia. She has definitely influenced how I will practice medicine as I enter a career in pediatric genetics. She has given me a new appreciation for the anxiety that any parent of sick child must experience.
What does your dissertation or thesis cover?
I developed a new hybrid experimental-computational technique to study both mutation and drug-induced cardiac arrhythmias. In short, I developed a way to make isolated mouse heart cells behave electrically like human heart cells. Therefore, we can study what insults may affect the proper electrical activity of humanlike cells.