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.”