Student Spotlight: Jada Thompson, Interdisciplinary StudiesPublished on Sep 04, 2018
Jada Thompson is a senior at Auburn University who majors in Interdisciplinary Studies with focuses in Biology and Psychology. Thompson hopes to become a genetic counselor and works under Dr. Nancy Merner (in the Department of Pathobiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine) to find hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genes. She also spends time educating the community by traveling to local events where she hands out informational pamphlets and talks to anyone who is interested. In her free time, Thompson enjoys playing volleyball, coaching a travel volleyball team, reading, finding new creative outlets, and binge watching her favorite shows.
1. Would you mind telling me a bit about yourself?
In addition to working in Dr. Merner’s lab, I also volunteer at Women's Hope Medical Clinic as a client advocate. I am in the process of applying to genetic counseling programs and hope to work with patients affected with rare diseases.
2. Can you tell me about the work of a genetic counselor and what about the career interests you?
With genetics being the building blocks of who we are as humans, I think the future of medicine is to stop treating problems symptomatically and address the root-issue: genes. I have always been fascinated by genetics but never felt called to a career until I learned about Genetic Counseling. Ultimately, their clinical role is to help patients understand and adapt to the psychological and familial implication of genetic disease. This is particularly interesting to me, because I will get to have a dynamic career where I am simultaneously investigating really complex science while working to help people in a way that I can see tangible results from my work.
3. Can you talk a bit about the work you’ve done and what you’ve learned in the process?
Through my experience as a college student, I've learned more about myself than anything. I have interned all three summers, volunteered at Women's Hope, participated in undergraduate research, served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for biology labs, and worked as an Honors Biology group tutor. As a whole, these experiences have been really influential in my career choice. They seem a little eclectic, but they really describe the roles of a genetic counselor. It's through these opportunities that I have found that I love the scientific process, helping people make difficult decisions, advocating for patients, and educating.
4. What has your experience working under Dr. Merner been like?
Dr. Merner is a new professor who is thrilled about her research. This makes her an incredibly powerful driving force for an undergraduate. Being in her lab gives me the opportunity to apply all of the skills I've cultivated through various experiences at Auburn while learning about breast cancer genetics research. These include recruitment, analysis, and return of results.
Two things, specific to my career interests, that I have loved getting to learn with her is how we determine if a genetic change is causing disease and the strategies for having research participants as collaborators on the project which is often incredibly useful. These skills are directly transferable to the work of a genetic counselor, but every experience in Dr. Merner's lab will provide insight for explaining the research process to patients interested in enrolling in research studies in the future.
5. How do you feel your time as an Interdisciplinary Studies major has affected you?
In the IDSC program, I have been able to achieve a level of thinking that I believe will be necessary for my career. The ability to integrate knowledge from a variety of academic disciplines is an exciting and creative process that enables a deeper understanding of all issues. Particularly, for me, the psychological and social implications of diseases that are traditionally thought of as biological; however, this idea can be generalized to all academic interests. In the real world, big problems don't originate, persist, or become solved in a disciplinary vacuum.
Also, it is interesting to be in a classroom full of people with such varied interests and have the opportunity to learn from their unique educational backgrounds when looking at some of the world's most complex problems. I never felt like I "belonged" to a cohort of students until declaring my IDSC major.
6. Is there a class you’ve taken that stands out in your mind as being particularly impactful?
I have had quite a few impactful courses over my years at Auburn, but The Honors Genomics and Personalized Medicine Seminars offered a lot of growth for me as a freshman. Going into the course, I was in way over my head. Dr. Tao, the professor, gave me a realistic experience with the cutting-edge genetic medicine and research methods. Coming out of the class, I was able to independently research and understand peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Tao piqued my interest for the endless utility of genomic medicine and research to help people with rare diseases, and really enabled my pursuit of undergraduate research experiences early in my college career. To this day, I include his influence in every personal statement I write.
7. Do you feel like the experience you’ve gained at Auburn has helped prepare you to be successful in the future?
Absolutely! Auburn has offered so many opportunities for growth throughout my time here, and I am excited to see how they all contribute to my professional development as time progresses.
Interview conducted by Dillan Wright, an undergraduate student at Auburn University majoring in Professional and Public Writing while minoring in both Creative Writing and Philosophy and Religion.