Serena MacDonald (Class of 2014)

photo of Serena MacDonald

  • recent honors graduate with a Zoology major and a minor in Neuroscience
  • from Wheelersburg, OH
  • 2-year co-president of the Miami University chapter of the American Medical Student Association
  • received a Pre-Medical Advisory Committee Scholarship from the Mallory-Wilson Center
  • currently a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh
I did a 10-week summer internship at the Cleveland Clinic, where I performed research in the immunology department. It was really cool to join a small lab of about 5 or 6 people and get to know everyone really well. I worked there 4 days a week studying lupus in a murine model. I was challenged to give my first presentation at a lab meeting, but everyone was so educated and helpful that it was a great first experience."

Why Miami?

"The first time I heard about Miami was when my brother started looking at colleges 2 years before me. I'm from a small town, and although Oxford is small as well there is a great deal more diversity on campus than there was in my hometown. Some of the things that made Miami one of my top choices included their honors program, which I found to be very unique. I also liked Miami's really strong reputation for pre-med, since from the beginning I was pretty sure I wanted to go to medical school. I also wanted to get into research, which I was able to do here.

"After I took chemistry and biology as a freshman, I was settled on being a Zoology major. The faculty are top-notch, and the high national rankings that Miami receives for undergraduate teaching are well deserved in my opinion. I can't remember the last time I had a class where the professor didn't know my name, and that makes you want to perform better.

Serena MacDonald poses with 2 graduate student colleagues in the Killian research lab.

"As my graduation from Miami loomed closer and closer, I began thinking a lot about the people that I'll miss. For example, I worked under the biology department's Dr. Kathleen Killian in her research lab for 3 years, and she's been a really great mentor for me. She takes tons of undergraduates in her lab and does a really nice job providing students with what is often their first research experience. Another key person was Robert Balfour, the assistant director of the Mallory-Wilson Center for Healthcare Education. As my pre-medical advisor since my first year, he's been extremely influential and helped me get my med school applications in on time!"

Best Miami Experiences

"I knew I wanted to go into medicine before I came to Miami, but it's not really fair to say that you know what you really want until you get more in-depth experiences in it. That's why I made sure to take advantage of a lot of experiences here, specifically in research, through my involvement the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), the Urban Leadership Internship Program, and Dr. Killian's lab.

"I joined AMSA as a freshman and then became co-president during my last 2 years, and this was a big deal for me at Miami. We did tons of different volunteer activities around the Miami community and brought in a lot of speakers—local physicians, medical school admissions representatives, and so on. As my primary leadership position at Miami, it taught me a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, especially being a leader among leaders.

"Our biggest volunteer event at AMSA was Run for World Health, which is a 5k event related to the national Ride for World Health cross-country bike ride. In the national event, people stop in different cities to talk about global health issues, and every year there are different charities selected that support global health causes. We have received great support from a lot of Miami faculty and students, as well as local businesses, for the event in the past.

"I also participated in the Urban Leadership Internship Program during the summer after my sophomore year. This program provided funding for me to design my own dream internship experience, which was in Cleveland. I got to do both immunology research at the Cleveland Clinic and volunteer at the Cleveland Free Clinic, where I worked as an HIV intervention specialist in their intervention program.

"Another influential research experience I had was working in Dr. Killian's lab, which as a whole focuses on neurogenesis, the immune system, and behavior in different invertebrates. For 3 years I was specifically focused on the behavior and immune systems of crickets.

"And finally, in the spring of 2014, only a few weeks before my graduation from Miami, I was honored to receive a special scholarship through the Pre-med Advisory Committee at the Mallory-Wilson Center. This scholarship was provided by a donor to help recognize pre-med students at Miami who are in the process of applying to medical school. Rob Balfour, the assistant director, helped me submit the application, which is set up like a mock application similar to what you would send to medical schools. I felt extremely overwhelmed and grateful to be recognized among my peers in receiving this scholarship, and it's been a great help in my application process!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Any graduate program applicant will tell you over and over again that every program is looking for applicants who are well-rounded. I think that choosing a major in the College of Arts and Science really helped me to succeed in that regard. Even beyond getting into graduate programs, I feel that the liberal arts make you someone who is more knowledgeable and better able to relate to people coming from diverse backgrounds and different fields of study.

"My first semester at Miami, I took an interdisciplinary class in Comparative Religion and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. It was really interesting for me and unlike anything that I had ever encountered in high school. I had to write a 15-page paper about marriage in different societies, and coming from my small-town background it was sometimes surprising and shocking. I love getting exposure to things like that!

"In addition, I've gotten to take classes on art history, cultural studies, lots of different psychology and sociology classes, and more—all which have been really helpful for me. Social psychology was one of my favorite classes here."

Undergraduate Research and Internship Experiences in Healthcare

Serena MacDonald and her poster presentation at the 2014 Undergraduate Research Forum

"The research that I've done with Dr. Killian has been extremely rewarding. Before coming to Miami I thought about doing some sort of biomedical research, but I didn't really know what that exactly meant. In her lab I got to work with lots of different undergrads and graduate students. Learning how to work cooperatively in a research environment was important, as you need to rely on people and count on them because you can’t be there every second of every day. Most of the projects were longitudinal, and they influenced my decision to go to med school at the University of Pittsburgh, where research is a strong part of education, just like at Miami.

"During the summer after my sophomore year, I did a 10-week summer internship at the Cleveland Clinic, where I performed research in the immunology department. It was really cool to join a small lab of about 5 or 6 people and get to know everyone really well. I worked there 4 days a week studying lupus in a murine model. I was challenged to give my first presentation at a lab meeting, but everyone was so educated and helpful that it was a great first experience.

"During that internship program, I also volunteered at Cleveland's Free Clinic one day a week. In the morning I did a lot of administrative work, and in the afternoon I worked with the syringe exchange program, which exchanges used needles with clean ones to prevent the spread of blood-born disease among injection drug users. We would take a bus out to the inner city to distribute the needles, and it impacted me because my own hometown also has a problem with prescription drug abuse. And finally, for the rest of the day I worked as an HIV intervention specialist, giving pre- and post-HIV test counseling, administering oral HIV tests, and taking sexual histories. This was both really cool and terrifying at the same time!

"All these research and internship positions really drove me to keep research as a part of my continued education. I can now read scientific papers more easily, and I feel like I'm more inquisitive. I can think about where projects could go next, and while I'm not perfect, I've gotten great exposure. This is an important part of medicine too—nowadays, researchers are actively pushing where medicine goes. At the Free Clinic, I absolutely loved getting the chance to serve people who had nowhere else to go—patients often had no insurance or money for treatment, and it was fulfilling to provide care for them. Despite my younger age, people at the Free Clinic were receptive to taking my advice. I never felt uncomfortable or disrespected."

Advice to Students

"Getting a well-rounded education, the chance to experience different disciplines, and the opportunity to choose the one that suits you best all help to make you a more relatable and educated person. These are all things you can receive at Miami. If you are wondering about what you would like to do, at least sample some classes outside your comfort zone—you don't know when you'll have that opportunity again.

"Coming from a small town, I used to think that the only jobs were doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, stuff like that—those are the most common careers where I live. However, at Miami I've met so many people going into so many different fields that I see that there is a lot more to the world. It's given me a better perspective on people who choose to go into other fields, since there are so many incredible opportunities out there. All in all, just sample a few of these opportunities and really devote yourself to them!"

[May 2014]