Chemistry PhD Candidate John de la Parra

John de la Parra, Chemistry PhD candidate, sits down with the College of Science Graduate Program staff to talk about what it’s like to work and study at Northeastern University.

Describe your research.

My work at Northeastern has been very interdisciplinary and I wouldn’t have had it any other way! Broadly, I have worked to understand the intricate details of very complex samples from both plants and humans, with an eye toward applications in biotechnology. I’ve analyzed the compounds found in rare plants used by indigenous people to treat neglected diseases, I’ve identified potential new pharmaceuticals from engineered plant tissue culture, and most recently, I’ve been analyzing human blood for the presence of never-before-described biomarkers for women’s diseases.

What is your favorite part about Northeastern?

The undergraduates, particularly those studying the sciences, are really special here. They aren’t like the undergraduates at any other institution. It has been my experience that a surprising number of them are committed to making real changes in the world. I find that inspiring.

Why did you choose Northeastern?

The interdisciplinary research being conducted at Northeastern drew me in. I also had a dream of living in the Boston/Cambridge area, surrounded by the unique and exciting academic atmosphere found here.

What is your favorite part of Boston?

I have lived in and around Harvard Square for all of my time at Northeastern and all of its quirks and special little shops and restaurants really feel like home. I also love to wake up early and go for a jog along the Charles—there is a surprising amount of natural beauty to be found there. I grew up on a farm and spent most of my life as a botanist, so I’m always trying to situate myself amongst the local flora. The Middlesex Fells and the Mount Auburn Cemetery are a couple other favorite plant-hunting places of mine.

What are the perks of being a Northeastern graduate student?

It has been an honor to teach such smart and motivated undergraduates. They have motivated me as a graduate student and made me a better teacher.

What advice would you give to an incoming graduate student?

It helps to be focused yet flexible. I feel that whatever you’ve envisioned graduate school will be, it will change. It’s also important to remind yourself that at some point, probably sooner than you thought, your time as a graduate student will end.

What are your plans after degree completion?

I have always been drawn to a career in academia – particularly because of the power that education can have to enrich life and empower individuals. Neither of my parents graduated from high school so this degree is significant for many reasons. My father has been sick for some time so that has motivated me to work even harder to complete my PhD research so that he might get to see me graduate. So, it will be a celebration but also a time for me to double my work to help others.