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Adiya Katseff, GSBMS Class of 2024, Expands Her Career Options with the Integrated Ph.D. Program

Ms. Katseff is pursuing her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology to combat diseases through vaccine development.

January 24, 2022
Adiya S. Katseff

What inspired you to pursue your degree?

I had pursued jobs in research with only a bachelor’s degree and I found that the jobs I was qualified for weren’t satisfying to me. I am interested in understanding things by asking and trying to answer the “how” and “why” questions and I feel that graduate school—and specifically a Ph.D. degree—is the training that I need to be qualified to pursue the answers to the questions I am curious about. By the time I earn my degree, I will be an expert on my specific research topic and I will also have the skills to communicate that knowledge so that I can teach and advise others.

What has helped motivate you along your educational journey? Have you encountered any challenges along the way?

The pursuit of knowledge is my basic motivation along my educational journey. However, like many students, I have struggled with courses and topics that I find challenging, as well as days and weeks when everything seems to go wrong in the lab. Supportive encouragement from my family and friends has been valuable to help me keep going even when I am feeling discouraged.

Also, I began graduate school in 2019 without an inkling that the whole world would soon change because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden shift away from in-person classes and uncertainty about lab rotations was stressful, but in the end, it inspired me to find a place in the lab that’s right for me. I also learned to laugh instead of getting more stressed when presented with new challenges. For example, when my cat walked over my computer keyboard while I was taking an online exam, I calmly moved her out of the way and erased the gibberish that she typed rather than panicking or resenting the exam normally would have been administered on campus.The pursuit of knowledge is my basic motivation along my educational journey. However, like many students, I have struggled with courses and topics that I find challenging, as well as days and weeks when everything seems to go wrong in the lab. Supportive encouragement from my family and friends has been valuable to help me keep going even when I am feeling discouraged.

After you graduate, what is your dream career?

I would not say that I have a specific career in mind, but I do have a goal to contribute in some way to decreasing disease burden. I am not sure yet whether that is through directly developing life-saving vaccines and medications for humans or animals, or whether it is by ensuring that all people have access to vaccines and medications through better education and government policy.

What made you choose NYMC? 

NYMC was an easy choice for me for a few reasons. First, since it is a small, graduate-only school, it is easier to get to know other students and faculty than at a larger institution that might feel more generic and sterile. I like that the academic environment does not feel competitive—where students work together with each other and with faculty to lift each other up rather than to tear others down.

Also, I came into graduate school with an interest in several different areas of research and the IPP program is structured so that I was able to rotate through different departments and labs in the first year until I found the lab that was the right fit for me.

What has been your favorite aspect of being an NYMC student?

My favorite aspect of being an NYMC student has been getting to grow into being an independent researcher. When I first started here, I needed a lot of guidance and supervision and did not have a sense of how to answer questions by performing experiments. Now, I feel more confident in my ability to plan and perform experiments, although I still have a lot to learn.

Because I took several years after completing my undergraduate studies to work before coming to graduate school, I was not sure how I would adjust to or enjoy academic life. While it did take a little while to get used to being a student again, I have found that I truly enjoy the freedom of setting my own pace and being accountable to myself to achieve the necessary milestones on the way to earning my degree. 

What faculty member has had the greatest influence on you here?

Several faculty members have been very helpful to me but there are two people who I feel have been the most influential. First Dr. Dana G. Mordue, [Ph.D., associate professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology and vice chancellor for middle states accreditation], welcomed me into her lab to adjust back to research in the summer of 2020 when I was unsure of which direction to go next and was being encouraged to return to campus after having been at home for several months due to the pandemic. She gave me a project of my own and encouraged me to learn new skills so that I could approach data analysis in a new way, which helped me find the courage to take charge of my education and push in the direction that I wanted to go. She also encouraged me to seriously consider joining the lab that I ultimately chose for my dissertation research, which brings me to Dr. Paul M. Arnaboldi, [Ph.D., associate professor of pathology, microbiology and Immunology.]

Dr. Arnaboldi, my advisor, has been influential not only in guiding my research project but also in approaching the day-to-day work of being a graduate student. While research is a serious topic, he also makes sure to bring a sense of humor to campus every day and this has definitely influenced me to relax and be able to laugh at and learn from my mistakes even when it means I have to restart or change direction after weeks or months of lab work.

What advice would you give applicants or incoming students?

Graduate school can be challenging, rewarding, grueling and thrilling—all at the same time. It is important—and humbling—to remember that progress is not linear and expectations rarely match reality. At the same time, graduate school can help you learn not only a specific topic but also how to advocate for yourself, establish boundaries and communicate effectively. Anyone considering a Ph.D. should be absolutely certain that it is something that they both want and need because it is not easy.

Outside of your studies, what are your hobbies or interests?

Having hobbies and interests outside of academia is very important to me, because taking breaks from my studies gives me fuel to jump right back in. I love to knit, which is practical because it provides me with lots of warm socks and gloves and it is also soothing because it is a repetitive motion that lets my mind relax. I also love to bake, which not only has delicious results but also encourages me to think about the chemical and biochemical reactions that occur when dough rises and cookies brown in the oven. Keeping physically active is also important to me and my favorite way of staying active is aerial yoga, which has helped me to develop strength and flexibility and is also fun.

Are you a part of any student organizations or interest groups?

I was one of the members of a committee formed by the Ph.D. students to rework the format of the qualifying exam. The qualifying exam can be very stressful for many Ph.D. students, and we felt that making it consistent across all the academic departments would help future students qualify in a timely manner and in a way that would be most constructive toward earning their degree. The new unified policy is now in effect.

What is a fun fact about you?

I am left-handed. While most of the time this doesn’t cause serious issues as I interact with a predominantly right-handed world, it does help me to notice small details in the way equipment is designed and labs are set up that most people probably don’t notice but that are very awkward for me to use. I think this overall has helped me to observe more closely, think more deeply about the way things work and be conscious of everyone’s comfort.

I enjoy puns and word games like crossword puzzles. While I don’t think of myself as quick-witted all the time, I do feel that solving crossword puzzles has helped me to approach problem-solving from multiple angles rather than stubbornly attacking problems the same way.