Danielle Spitzer

Danielle Spitzer

Albany, New York

“When you’re in the lab, you get to generate new knowledge. There’s an answer out there somewhere, but no one knows it yet.”

Host University: Columbia University
Home University: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Amgen Scholar Year: 2016
Major: Biology and Women’s Studies
Expected Graduation: 2017

Journey to Science

How did you become interested in science?

Ninth-grade was when the fire was lit. As soon as I took an intro biology class, I knew I wanted to keep studying this. Throughout high school, I continued taking biology courses and my senior year, my biology teacher—an amazing mentor—gave me a desk in the back of the classroom and said, “Design an experiment.” The experiment itself didn’t work out, but I feel like that’s a good way to start off in science.

Academic and Professional Ambitions

What’s the larger significance of your Amgen Scholars research? What’s your ultimate career goal?

This summer, I worked in Benjamin Ohlstein’s lab, where I studied how the gut is built and maintained throughout life. Going into his lab, I was pretty confident that I wanted to pursue a PhD and a career in academia. But my summer with Amgen Scholars gave me a good feel for what it’s like to be a full-time researcher. This experience was validating for me. When you’re in the lab, you get to generate new knowledge. There’s an answer out there somewhere, but no one knows it yet. [KRC1]

Why did you apply to the Amgen Scholars Program?

I knew I wanted to spend my summer doing research. I had the option to stay at UNC Chapel Hill, in the lab where I had been working, but I thought doing research somewhere else would be a valuable experience that would allow me to broaden my horizons and explore new areas of study, especially as I think about applying to graduate school.

What aspects of the program did you enjoy most?

This is the first opportunity I’ve had to work full-time in the lab, and I loved it. It’s really cool to be immersed in a project and have ownership over what you do. When you’re working on experiments during the school year, you have to balance that with classes and rely on others to take care of the project when you can’t. Outside of the lab, I made new friends with my fellow Amgen Scholars and created lasting professional connections.