Adwoa Sefah, a biology major on the pre-med track, is graduating this Friday from the College of Science (COS)! She will be sharing highlights from her Northeastern University experience this week on our Instagram. Follow along!
Q: Tell us about your overarching COS experience as a graduating senior. What will you miss most when you graduate this Friday?
I originally applied to Northeastern as a student in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences but realized shortly before orientation that COS would be a better fit. My enrollment at COS also allowed me to participate in the Summer Bridge Program.
After changing majors a few times, under the guidance of my advisors, I found my passion for cell and molecular biology.
As I graduate this Friday, I will miss the relationships I cultivated with my classmates and professors. I was afraid COS would be super competitive and professors would be unapproachable. But my experiences proved my fears wrong. Instead, I learned the importance of teamwork in the scientific world.
My experience at COS sparked my curiosity in the humanities, and I eventually declared a psychology minor. I felt this was an essential piece of my education because I believe it’s vital to understand how people’s experiences and mental processes change and affect their lives and health as a future doctor.
Q: Why did you decide to attend Northeastern and enroll at COS? Why pursue a pre-med track?
I graduated from a technical high school with a structure like Northeastern. After graduating with a certificate in biotechnology, I was able to experience co-ops and internships. So, when I learned about Northeastern’s co-op program, I knew there was no other school that would be a better fit for me. I learn best when I can apply what I learn in the classroom to the real world, and I knew that was what Northeastern would offer me.
I was born and raised in Ghana in a medically underserved community. In the town I grew up in, there were only two doctors and a midwife serving a population of about 100,000 people. Seeing them try their best in a community that lacked access to resources and proper staffing fueled my dream of becoming a doctor. I hope to give back to my community in Ghana someday.
Q: Tell us about your experience in the Summer Bridge Program.
Before my fall semester began as a freshman, I joined the Summer Bridge Program. At the time, the program was only available to COS and engineering students but is now a university-wide program. I was very anxious as a first-generation college student because I didn’t exactly know what to do or how to do college. The Summer Bridge Program introduced me to what college classes would look like, with previews of courses such as physics, general chem, biology, and calculus, taught by Northeastern faculty, some of who ended up being my professors as a full-time student.
In addition to these previews, we participated in the “Guaranteed 4.0 Program,” where we received study tips and learned various skills related to being effective and successful college students. We also had the chance to meet academic advisors and current students who advised us shared their experiences, and explained what worked for them. Additionally, we took trips to places such as the Museum of Science and Northeastern’s Marine Science Center at Nahant.
I left this program feeling confident in my journey at Northeastern and COS. I had the chance to make new friends before the semester began, acquaint myself with the Boston campus, and understand the structure of college classes. I also had the opportunity to meet and engage with some lifelong mentors I still talk to today.
Q: Tell us about your co-op experience at the Fishell Lab at Harvard Medical School.
During the spring semester of my sophomore year (January 2020 – June 2020), I experienced my first and only co-op at the Fishell Lab at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute. Unfortunately, like many others, my co-op was interrupted by the pandemic. Nevertheless, I had helped gather enough data to analyze over the lockdown period while working one on one with a PhD in the lab.
In the lab, my research focused on synaptic pruning of the microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells. I focused specifically on studying the effects of synaptic pruning on both inhibitory and excitatory synapses, using mice as animal models. I worked with mice in my previous lab, so I wasn’t too worried. It was a matter of sharpening skills I had previously acquired.
I was lucky to start with some technical skills on hand, thanks to previous lab experience, so I was able to kickstart mini-independent projects. This work was later published as part of a planned publication.
While this was my only co-op, it clarified many questions I had about research and medicine. My PI and mentor were invested in my goals and plans and made it a point to guide me in whatever path I chose. As a result, I grew in my abilities as a student and a scientist, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and critically thinking about the findings of experiments I performed, skills that will benefit my future career path in medicine.
Q: What were you involved with on campus as a student?
When I first enrolled, I felt pressured to join many clubs because so many options were available. But I was eventually able to narrow down my options as time went by. I was involved in the College of Science Student Diversity and Advisory Council (COSSDAC), which provides resources such as scholarships and research opportunities to underrepresented individuals in the sciences. In addition, their work includes career panels and diversity panels with Northeastern professors. I served on the e-board for three years.
I was also involved in the knitting club because I enjoyed crocheting and knitting. In The National African Student Organization, I connected with my roots. Additionally, my religion was important to me coming to college, so I was involved in a few Christian groups and church organizations.
Aside from clubs, I also served as a Resident Assistant for two years, beginning during the pandemic, because I wanted to help the incoming first-years have the best possible college experience regardless of the limited chances to engage fully. I also wanted to serve as a resource for these students and give back the same way I was guided when I first entered Northeastern.
Q: You experienced a global dialogue; tell us about it.
The summer after my first year, I went on a psychology dialogue in London. It was one of the most pivotal experiences of my Northeastern journey. Aside from immigrating from Ghana, I never traveled outside of the U.S. I earned eight credits in five weeks, met new people, explored a beautiful city, and had fun.
We did a bus tour on our first day there and stopped at the royal palace to take group pictures. The course structure was unique because we had a mix of in-class and on-field learning experiences. Because it was a psychology dialogue, some topics and classes forced us to be vulnerable with one another. Everyone was open to learning and understanding one another. Since we were a small group, we all grew close very quickly, and I made some lifelong friends while on the dialogue.
We visited the Freud Museum weekly to learn about psychoanalysis. We also experienced day trips, including one to Oxford University, which was the highlight of my time there. Outside of our itinerary, we visited Sky Garden, the Royal Botanical Kew Gardens, beaches, the London Eye, Korean BBQ at the end of the train stop, movies at midnight, and various museums.
Q: How have your experiences at COS prepared you for post-graduation life?
Attending medical school has always been my dream, and my experiences at COS taught me the importance of team-based learning through labs and in-class projects. In addition, all the courses I took prepared me for the MCAT I had to take to apply for medical school.
Due to the diverse courses available within COS, if I ever changed my mind about going to medical school and decided that I suddenly wanted to get a job in academia or industry, I know I would succeed in any path I choose.
Q: As a graduating senior, what advice do you have for first-year students?
As a graduating senior, the first advice I have for first-year students is to attend office hours. To better understand class material and cultivate a genuine relationship with your professors, you often need to go for open hours.
The second piece of advice is that you shouldn’t be scared to seek out opportunities. If there is a professor you know, and you like their research or the work they do, reach out to them and express your interest in working with them or simply hear more about their work. Ask professors for advice on the paths you want to experience. They all have unique and valuable experiences and are ready and willing to share their wealth of knowledge.
The next piece of advice is to have fun. Make a bucket list of places you want to visit while in Boston. If you want to experience a dialogue, add it to your bucket list. If there are restaurants you want to try, add those as well. Museums, parks, gardens, add them all. Treat yourself to ice cream when you do well on tests. Be your biggest cheerleader.
Last but not least, find a community. Your classmates will be future trailblazers, inventors, and innovators. This is the time to create genuine connections with those around you. Avoid burning bridges and grab opportunities to develop new connections.
Q: What’s next after graduation?
After graduation, I will be matriculating into the University of Illinois School of Medicine. There, I hope to continue my journey of becoming a physician-scientist focused on community care and hopefully engaging in research on health equity and health disparities.