Personal Statement

Danielle Hernandez

Danielle Hernandez   With increasing demands worldwide for scientific and medical advancements, I embark on a journey to join self and subject in becoming a professor of biology and an experienced researcher and scientific leader. My passion to help others has evolved and become an integral part of the educated, diversified and motivated woman, scientist and teacher I am today. I intend to inspire students to connect with science and achieve their personal goals and dreams as others have done for me. In addition, I plan to conduct research concerning genetic diseases, cancer, gene therapy, and stem cells to provide physicians and genetic counselors cutting edge information to more accurately assess risks, interpret medical history, test and diagnose genetic diseases and illnesses due to the malfunction of the cell cycle and developmental mechanisms. I know my personal interest for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology would flourish working with top scientists solving challenging biological and medical mysteries.

     I was not always interested in research or achieving my PhD; however, I felt inspired after hearing researchers discuss their development of the HPV vaccine at Columbia Medical School’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP). This inspiration turned into a personal passion to conduct research to contribute to the greater wealth of scientific knowledge. I sought out the guidance of my cell and molecular biology professor at Northern Michigan University (NMU), who helped me develop the required skills and knowledge for success. I proceeded to determine the cross-taxa applicability of a sex identification PCR test by isolating DNA from cervid blood and hair samples, amplifying sex-chromosome linked genes with PCR, and running the product electrophoretically on an agarose gel. This work is useful for biologists interested in diagnosing the sex of unknown cervid individuals, and for those interested in understanding sex chromosome evolution.

    Beyond my traditional laboratory experience at NMU, I worked with scientists abroad, sharpened my scientific skills, and experienced the life and culture a foreign country offers. I ventured to the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, West Africa and conducted biochemical research on medicinal plants for the National Science Foundation. I extracted lipids from the oilseeds of Citrullus colocynthis, commonly called Werewere; ran infrared spectroscopy (IR) of the oil; analyzed gas chromatography of the fatty acid methyl esters (FAME); and utilized oil quality tests to determine the fatty acid composition of the oil extracted from the oilseeds. Its implications in the Ghanaian culture contribute to understanding the Citrullus colocynthis seeds nutritional significance in relation to health. This was the most satisfying research project as I returned to the United States a far more open-minded young scientist with intentions on uniting my interests in science and education, rather than pursuing a medical degree.

   I have gained a great depth of understanding how research impacts people every day from my pre-medical experience when I was performing clinical observations and volunteering at hospitals and clinics. Rather than rush into a specialty or medical school, I chose to embrace my interest in education and make a difference earlier while using my knowledge of science to support youth, families, and communities. I gained teaching experience co-teaching and tutoring at NMU, and earned my teaching certificate in biology, chemistry and integrated science. With hopes set on having more firsthand experience, I dedicated a year to teaching and coaching 6-12th grade science. This provided me time to reflect on my life experiences and education thus far, while further serving the community and being inspired by students and families. I felt renewed confidence and enjoyment in teaching genetics and molecular biology while discovering my limitations and what I am truly capable of. I craved to again be involved with cutting edge research, challenged in an ever-changing field, and work with scientists to indirectly serve patients. By reaching out to colleagues and mentors, and interviewing practicing researchers, I found pursuing my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology collectively incorporates my teaching skills, science knowledge, interests in medical research, and enjoyment helping and working with people.

     I carry with me perspectives, conviction and knowledge I have gained from colleagues, students, family and experiences nationally and internationally. I am continuously reminded of my willpower, love for life-long learning, and dedication to help others unite our world and science. I was humbled by NMU’s Board of Trustees recognition and support of my achievements and aspirations by honoring me as the Outstanding Student of any class in 2010. Working as an educator and researcher is unique in that it requires a wide variety of skills, working with diverse populations, and in situations with varying complexity and stress. Advancements in research are supported by fundamental practices and overcoming challenges with various specimens, chemicals, technology, techniques and communication. I am certain my personal strengths of independence, teamwork, attention to detail, creativity and perseverance will serve me well in learning the most from additional teaching experience, research, and professional guidance. The Mayo Clinic Graduate School’s Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology excites me with opportunities to work with dedicated educators, experienced biomedical scientists working on groundbreaking research, and collaborating with scientists nationally and internationally. With science, technology and the world constantly changing, there is always more to learn, discover and opportunities to be of service to one’s community, country, and the world. I am taking the next step to gain the specialized training and experience to contribute all that I can to scientific and medical advancements improving the lives of others worldwide.