When biology major Meghan Jewett, fresh from a co-​​op job at the Har­vard Med­ical School Center for Genetics and Genomics, set her sights on a posi­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge, Eng­land, she didn’t get a single offer; she got five.

After sys­tem­at­i­cally applying to more than 15 Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge lab­o­ra­to­ries, and receiving five offers for paid posi­tions, the premed stu­dent chose the university’s genetics depart­ment. She spent the first six months of 2009 studying the sus­cep­ti­bility of fruit flies to viruses, map­ping their genes, con­tributing to an upcoming research publication—and soaking up a bit of British cul­ture while she was at it.

Jewett’s fas­ci­na­tion with genetics began at North­eastern, where a course with pro­fessor Erin Cram caught her imag­i­na­tion and focused her toward the ear­lier co-​​op at Har­vard. From Jan­uary to July of 2008, she worked along­side doc­tors and lab tech­ni­cians, inves­ti­gating ground­breaking personalized-​​medicine tech­niques that could one day lead to better pre­ven­tive medicine.

I was there when a patient had the inside of his mouth swabbed for genetic testing that could pre­dict his genetic dis­po­si­tion toward a par­tic­ular dis­ease,” she said. “It’s just amazing how far sci­ence has come—that from one mouth swab a patient can learn whether they’re pre­dis­posed to Alzheimer’s or heart dis­ease.” Such advances in genetics testing, she noted, could prove ben­e­fi­cial to a patient who learns he or she is pre­dis­posed to a heart con­di­tion. “That person could take pre­ven­tive action through diet and exer­cise, for example,” she said.

Jewett’s drive to study genetics at Cam­bridge, “where I real­ized the remark­able real-​​world impact of sci­en­tists such as Watson and Crick, Darwin and Newton, who studied there” may well have been informed by her own genetic makeup: Jewett’s father is a physi­cian, and her brother is in his third year of med­ical school.

But it is Northeastern’s expe­ri­en­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties that are key, said Jewett, whose plans include med­ical school and a career in genetics. “If it weren’t for co-​​op, I’d prob­ably be a bit clue­less as to what I wanted to do,” she said of her now-​​clear career goals. “The co-​​op in Eng­land was a nat­ural pro­gres­sion from Har­vard, and to study in the same labs as the dis­cov­erers of the DNA helix was both appro­priate and aca­d­e­m­i­cally challenging.”

During her free time at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge, Jewett played women’s rugby and drank a lot of tea. “I loved the Eng­lish slang, espe­cially words like ‘cheeky,’” she said. She also joined the university’s Genetics Journal Club.

The whole expe­ri­ence, to be where Darwin and Newton were, was like a dream come true,” she added. “And, since it was Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday while I was there, we had par­ties to cel­e­brate the great man. I was always in such good company.”