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Meet the Grads: Rachel (Gadd) Ambrose

Rachel AmbroseOne of the most common questions asked of college students is, “What are your career goals?” Sometimes the answer is easy. Other times, it’s overwhelming – especially when you’re transitioning to college.
That was the case for Rachel (Gadd) Ambrose, a native of Wellsburg, West Virginia, when she was a freshman at West Virginia University.
“I knew that I liked learning about science, so I chose to major in biochemistry because the degree is so diverse that there were many career path options following graduation,” she said. “I could go to medical or graduate school or I could go into the research, industry, pharmacology, biology, chemistry, or biochemistry fields.”
After she crosses the stage during December Commencement, Ambrose plans to spend time working as a lab technician/researcher while deciding on a graduate program.
“I am leaning toward going to graduate school for plant pathology,” she said.
Four years later, defining career goals is easier.
“My ideal career would be to conduct my own research as a plant pathologist,” Ambrose said.

Did you conduct any undergraduate research? If so, please explain.

Rachel Ambrose
Yes, I conducted research under two different professors here at WVU. For my first research experience I completed the WVU RAP program under Dr. Paul Lockman who studies breast cancer research at the Health Sciences Center. In his lab I worked on trying to find new novel anti-cancer drugs that can penetrate the Blood-Brain Barrier and treat brain metastasis as a result of breast cancer more effectively than current anti-cancer drugs. For my second research experience I completed the WVU SURE program under Dr. Matthew Kasson who studies forest pathology and mycology in the Davis College. Here I studied a fungus called Verticillium nonalfalfae which is known in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia to naturally kill the invasive species, Ailanthus altissima, or tree-of-heaven and is used as a biocontrol in these states. For my research we surveyed multiple tree-of-heaven stands in WV that showed symptoms of Verticillium spp. infection in hopes of isolating Verticillium nonalfalfae so that it can be used as a natural biocontrol for tree-of-heaven in West Virginia. 

What has been your most meaningful experience at WVU? 

One of my most meaningful experiences here at WVU would be participating in undergraduate research. I am a very hands-on person and learn best through doing things. Thus, most the time I do not know what I want to do until I have tried everything. Thus, undergraduate research for me was a way to get hands-on experience in the research fields that I was interested in. These experiences have allowed to me discover what I like and don’t like to do, what I am really interested in studying, and what I am interested in but don’t want to do as a career. Thus, these experiences have been a great way for me to figure out what I want to do post-graduation. 

Most difficult or most unexpected? 

The most difficult part about my college career would have to be my biochemistry classes. These classes really challenged me academically and required a lot of studying and hard work to succeed in them. However, these classes were some of my favorites because I learned so much through them and they really changed the way I see the world. 

What is one thing you would have done differently during college?
Rachel Ambrose

I would have gotten involved in undergraduate research earlier in my college career. I did not get involved in undergraduate research until my junior year. Although I liked both labs that I worked in and the knowledge I gained from them I would have liked to have more time researching in them. 

What advice do you have for future students? 

Try everything that interests you and seize every opportunity. I am a strong believer in that you never know until you try. Thus, get involved in different clubs, become a college ambassador, get involved in undergraduate research and research different topics under different professors, or try a different class that isn’t necessarily required for your major. These experiences might change your overall goals for the better and solidify or redefine what you are passionate about.