Sandra Small, PhD ’11

Sandra Small and her mentor Mark O'Brian.

Sandra Small, left, found her mentor—and her calling—in the PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences.

Sandra Small was determined to become a microbiologist when she entered the PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences.

She earned a PhD in biochemistry.

“I didn’t come in with a lot of research experience, knowing exactly what these fields are about,” she says. “I had to branch out, and I learned that there are other fields that are as interesting as microbiology.”

Small found her calling during a lab rotation. Our PhD students rotate through three to four labs during the year, an experience that allows them to explore different departments, decide which research matches their interests and advance their career goals.

“Many students who come in thinking they know what they want to do change their mind,” says Mark O’Brian, PhD, professor of biochemistry and microbiology. “A lot of reasons—scientific and interpersonal—go into that decision.”

Small chose O’Brian’s lab for the research and the opportunity to collaborate with a mentor who would train her to become a successful independent research scientist.

“You have to be able to approach your mentor with problems and ideas,” she says. “Mark lets you have your independence. He’s not standing over your shoulder constantly asking, ‘Where’s the data?’ He lets you motivate yourself, but he’s there to help if you need it.”