Sofia Chinchilla: Passion for research shapes career goals

Sofia Chinchilla will be the student speaker at the Spring Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 15, at 10 a.m. She is a Williams Honors Scholar graduating with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering, summa cum laude.

Hometown: North Olmsted, Ohio

Graduate: North Olmsted High School

What’s next?

Graduate school to obtain an M.D./Ph.D.

Q: Did you do an internship or co-op? How did that help you prepare for a career?

A: I did two research internships over the summers of 2014 and 2015. The first was at the Cleveland Clinic in the Biomedical Engineering Department. There I worked on developing and characterizing nanoparticles loaded with a chemotherapeutic so that eventually they could be used to treat cancer. Then, in the summer of 2015, I worked at the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) in the Integrative Sciences Department. At NEOMED, I worked on characterizing coronary collateral arteries from micro-computerized tomography (µCT) images. By characterizing them, we can understand more about chronic heart diseases.

Both of these experiences were wonderful because they are what sparked my passion for research. I took the job at the Cleveland Clinic before I decided that I wanted to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. degree. At that time, I figured that internship would be a great job that would help me get into medical school. After the internship, I realized that I wanted to continue researching while still practicing medicine and that getting a combined degree would be the best way to do that. The internship at NEOMED gave me an opportunity to gain more research experience, but in a different area of medicine. Together, the internships have given me the research background that I will need in my future career.

Q: What’s your advice to incoming freshmen

A: Find your passion. College is hard and in my opinion, all the hard work and late nights I have to put in to get through the tough times wouldn’t be worth it if I wasn’t passionate about my future career path. With that being said, I would advise incoming freshmen to take advantage of every opportunity that comes by and to try new things — that’s how you find out what you are passionate about, or maybe, what you aren’t passionate about. In addition, I would tell them to take time to have some fun, because college isn’t just about preparing for a future career, it is also about making good friends and great memories that will last a life time. So join an organization, a club sport, a design team, or just hang out with friends and do something fun. At the very least, it will make your coursework seem more bearable. If you can find a career you are passionate about and be able to balance that with relaxing and having fun with friends, your undergraduate years will be very successful.

Q: What’s your ultimate career goal?

A: My current plan is to go to medical school and obtain a combined M.D./Ph.D. With that degree, I hope to eventually become a researching physician working at a research hospital. At this hospital, I would like to treat patients during part of the week, and spend the rest of my time working on a team of scientists, physicians and engineers to develop new medical treatments. My current field of interest is in oncology. My dream is to eventually be able to develop a new treatment for cancer and save or improve the lives of hundreds of suffering people.