MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

From October 2015 to January 2016, GSBS posted a Facebook campaign that highlighted students' responses to a simple question with a profound answer: What ignited your passion for science? 


Marco Leung

"As a kid growing up, I watched a lot of forensics TV shows and I was always in awe of how investigators use different scientific techniques to solve cases. It was fascinating to watch how they use DNA to link to the suspect. It sparked my early interest in biology and motivated me to study human genetics. Now my Ph.D. project is to use advanced sequencing methods to sequence tumor genome and understand how tumors evolve." – Leung is an American Legion Auxiliary Fellow with the Genes & Development Program


Jillian Losh

“I have always loved biology, but my passion for lab work started when I began working as a Veterinary Assistant at an equine clinic. I enjoyed testing various types of samples and was fascinated by the world on the other side of the microscope. While a jump from horses to microbes seems pretty extreme, I love researching basic biological mechanisms (regardless of the model organism)! As a Ph.D. student, I currently study the interactions between key proteins involved in eukaryotic RNA degradation within the cellular nucleus.” - Losh is the GSBS GSA Secretary and is with the Microbiology & Molecular Genetics Program


John Morrow

“I am the oldest of five siblings, and my dad, who was also involved in medicine, was always eager to promote our passion for asking ‘why’ and for giving us the right tools to discover things for ourselves: we took many trips to the library, had access to microscopes, telescopes, internet access (even though it was dial-up) and lots of reference materials/books. In particular, I remember Time Life had a series of heavy books called ‘How things Work’ and the ones on flight, space, the brain, computers and medicine. They explained complex concepts brilliantly and they gave me goose bumps thinking about things like: how vast space is, how metal tubes can carry us through the sky and how oxygen and medications travel through my body, to my brain…and I just gave myself goose bumps.” - Morrow is a Cancer Answers Sylvan Rodriguez Scholar with the Experimental Therapeutics


Uyen (Mimi) Le

Ironically, I almost failed third grade science. I never would have imagined that I'd be pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical science! When I was a junior in high school, my parents signed me up for a summer research program. I was thrown into this foreign environment of micropipettors, agarose gels, immunohistochemistry – and I loved it. The prospect of discovering something novel that would somehow help further our understanding of human disease and potentially helping patients in the clinic motivated me to continue to do research. Now, as a Ph.D. candidate, I am studying the role of DEAR1, a tumor suppressor, in regulating epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and stem/progenitor cell properties in breast cancer. – Le is a GSBS Community Outreach Coordinator with the Human & Molecular Genetics Program


Natalie Sirisaengtaksin

For GSBS Neuroscience student and 2014-2015 Russell and Diana Hawkins Family Foundation Discovery Fellow Natalie Sirisaengtaksin it was trying to find the answer to a question. “When I was young, I always asked questions. Why is the sky blue? Why does it rain? Why do my fingers get wrinkly in the pool? I questioned everything around me and I looked up the answers in encyclopedias and other books. As I got older, the questions got harder. Why do we dream? Why do people get diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's? Will we ever find cures for all the different types of cancer? You can't find these answers in books, because no one knows…yet. In the lab, I can answer my own questions. Every experiment I do gets us closer to an answer.” 


Michael McGuire

For GSBS student and Cameron International Corporation Fellow Michael McGuire, with the Cancer Biology Program, it was a college course. “I still vividly remember my first true exposure to science. Sitting in my first class as a college freshman, a course titled ‘Evolution of the Cosmos, Earth and Life’ (in other words, everything). I was stunned by the ability of mankind to ascertain the age of the universe, the origin of life’s complex diversity, and the earth’s infinitesimally small place in the cosmos. ‘So this is science,’ I thought. Up until this point, science had been memorization of seemingly disjoined facts such as at what temperature water freezes, or what a cell is made of. It suddenly became clear to me that science is a remarkably powerful tool that allows us to probe the nature of reality, from galaxies light years across, to the inner workings of an atom.”  


Kelsey Maxwell

"I became interested in science initially as a child because I loved visiting aquariums, zoos, and learning more about nature. I studied marine biology as an undergrad and I loved that we could learn something in class, and then go out on the ocean and see those concepts in action. However, after graduation, there were still so many scientific ideas I hadn't explored or begun to understand. I wanted to study disease progression and work from a more clinical perspective. Now, my Ph.D. project is to solve some of the biophysical mechanisms that lead to tumor formation and metastasis, which I hope will ultimately lead to novel and innovative strategies for targeting specific types of cancer." – Maxwell is a Rosalie B. Hite Fellow with the Cell and Regulatory Biology Program 


Arianexys Aquino-Lopez

“As a child growing up in Puerto Rico, I always said I wanted to become a pediatrician to help sick children feel better. Working towards that goal, I got a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, but what really ignited my passion for science was working in research laboratories as an undergraduate. Wearing that lab coat, running experiments and handling patient samples made me realize that as a scientist, I could also help improve a patient’s quality of life. My mindset changed completely, I realized that although I wanted to practice medicine, I also wanted to change the way we practice medicine. I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore. I wanted to be a physician scientist and think critically about how to improve current treatment options. My current Ph.D. project focuses on using immunotherapy, particularly NK cells, for the treatment of childhood malignancies.” — Aquino-Lopez is an Association of Minority Biomedical Researchers member, American Legion Auxiliary Fellow with the Clinical and Translational Sciences Program (Photo taken by Adolfo Chavez III, MD Anderson)


Felix Nwajei

“Several events sparked my scientific curiosity. Growing up, I owned a monocular microscope (my dad’s) and simple lenses. I would examine anything that looked interesting from insects to crystals, and I would harness and focus the sun’s beam through simple lenses to start fire. There were so many other fun phenomena that I stumbled upon. I later learnt the scientific basis of many natural marvels in high school and premed. But it was not until after I consumed a ton of information in medical school and repeatedly witnessed the mortality of patients that I became actively conscious of the limit of established facts; I began asking way too many questions. Eventually, I would make a detour in my medical career to answer fundamental questions. Presently, I am utilizing sophisticated microscopes to study the spatiotemporal regulation and dynamics of immune cellular activity in the brain tumor microenvironment in real time. I am positive that my discoveries will advance knowledge and benefit patients.” — Nwajei is a T.C. Hsu Endowed Memorial Scholar with the Immunology Program 


Ginger Tsai

“I was not one of those kids who took naturally to science. The majority of my childhood was filled with literature, arts and music. And despite my parents' efforts to get me interested in the field and aware of my own skills, I avoided the world of science and engineering like the plague. In high school, when science class became divided into biology, chemistry and physics, I began to realize that science provided a way to view the world from different angles. It was at this point that science stopped scaring me and became something fascinating to explore. I wanted to approach problems from one framework one day and another the next, and science provided the perfect means to do that. The practical application of the framework through labs and projects just made the field that much more interesting. Now, here I am, studying the genetic basis for human life while integrating my love for communication and storytelling in the world of genetic counseling.” – Tsai is a student with the Genetic Counseling Program 


Kemly Philip-Pandya

“My passion for science began as an elementary student under the influence of my mom, a college biology professor. I remember sitting in the back of her Anatomy & Physiology class as a second grader one summer, in awe of her ability to draw free-hand, an anatomically-correct human heart on the chalkboard. Later that year, in selecting a science fair project, she encouraged me to combine my interest in the heart with my passion for music and dance by testing how different types of music would affect an individual's blood pressure; I went on in later years to further stratify these differences by age and gender. I was fascinated by medicine and before I knew it, my mom was teaching me how to think and ask clinically relevant questions like a scientist. Now as an M.D./Ph.D. student a few floors above where my mom completed her postdoctoral fellowship 28 years ago, I am using the same basic principles of scientific method she taught me to carry out translational research in understanding the role of adenosine signaling and hypoxia on inflammation in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.” — Philip-Pandya is a Schissler Foundation Fellow with the M.D./Ph.D. and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program 


Kristine Ferrone

“As a little girl, I was fascinated by the night sky, particularly the Moon and its phases. I always had the natural inclination to wonder about ‘what's out there?’ and to seek out big, complex problems to solve. My curiosity to figure out how things work was reinforced by an amazing high school physics teacher; after my first physics class, I was hooked! I went on to get my B.S. in Astrophysics at Carnegie Mellon University, worked at a particle accelerator for two years, diverted to engineering with NASA, and now I’ve come back for a Ph.D. in Medical Physics.”— Ferrone is a first-year GSBS student with the Medical Physics Program 


Alex Li

What ignited your passion for science? “As a kid, I liked to imagine mostly impractical things.  I remember my favorite show back then was X-Files. Whenever I was watching it, I’d go ‘’d be cool if that could actually happen.’  I would then go search for information online.  Albeit the show was fiction, it usually had some interesting scientific facts behind it. I discovered then that science has the power to blur the line between what’s imaginary and what’s known as reality – such as the possibility to genetically modify an egg to hatch your own dragon at home.  Imagining things is fun, and science allowed me to imagine more of what’s possible.  Now that I've outgrown the dragon-fantasizing phase, I’m in the Ph.D. program at GSBS learning how to ask the right questions in cancer research.” — Li is a first-year student