Jennifer Madrigal, Hill Lab (Biochemistry)
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from, what degree(s) do you have? What are your interests?
I’m going into my 4th year as a PhD student. I grew up in Southern California and have two AA degrees and one AS from Riverside City College. I got my BS in Biochemistry with a Chemistry minor from the University of California Riverside.
My first baby was born 6 weeks before I transferred to a four-year, and my second was born in the middle of my bachelor’s degree. One of my foremost interests is keeping them alive and trying to get them to grow up to be ethical, responsible people. I also love fruit/vegetable gardening and therapeutic weed-picking.
Why did you choose the U for graduate school?
I didn’t know much about the University of Utah before I applied to grad schools. I came for the interview and realized how much the University values a well-balanced life, which as a student-parent is essential for me and my family’s well-being.
Tell me about your lab. What do you study?
I’m in Hill's Lab (Biochemistry/Structural Biology) studying an interesting interaction between a couple of molecules in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells. Ask me if I have a structure yet!
Why did you choose to join your lab?
I love my lab! The Biochemistry Department is collaborative, sharing, welcoming, and engaging, and that’s exactly the type of environment that science thrives and grows in. I joined my specific lab (in addition to the awesome science) because in the middle of my first year I had a serious immigration issue that took my family away for almost half a year. While I fought the issue my PI and the rest of the lab were so understanding and comforting that I knew I had a great support group for anything else that came my way.
What do you like most about living in Salt Lake City?
The general community has such an active lifestyle. People really seem to enjoy life, and it is easy to find a kid-family trail just around the corner. I highly recommend the Jordan River Trail for biking with kids!
What do you like the least?
The transition to a new state was initially hard on my husband, but we found a neighborhood with a great Latino market and moved in just around the corner. Now we’ve even got our kids in a Dual Immersion Academy to help them stay involved with the Spanish language and appreciate other cultures.
What do you like most about being a graduate student?
Speaking on my family again- I have had a lot of flexibility as a grad student when family issues come up. Having children as an undergrad was very stressful, especially during flu season, because exam dates are not flexible and kids with fevers are not allowed into daycare. I am enjoying seeing myself grow scientifically as well- when I first started imposter syndrome was painful. It’s still painful, but I see my competence increasing.
What types of things do you do outside of class and lab?
Outside of class and lab I try to pay it forward to people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. It’s never enough, but I’ve been liaison for SACNAS Outreach for the past two years and we’ve put on some great events for underprivileged kids to try to capture their interest in science and hammer in the idea that they really can have a future in science. I’ve also been involved in the CaDeTS seminar series to help doctoral students and research trainees in their professional development. Retention and mentorship of researchers is essential!
What does a typical weekday look like for you?
Pre-Covid, I took the kids to school, hopped on the bus, and went to lab and/or class all day before coming home to pick them up from the afterschool program. I plan my week of experiments in advance to get the most out of my time in lab, but always find room to attend seminars and thesis defenses. There is more to research than performing experiments and it’s important to network and learn from other’s successes and failures.
What does a typical weekend look like for you?
I spend the weekend catching up on laundry, groceries, and spending time with my kids. I wish we got out more, but we’re at least strategically placed next to a bike trail for easy access to some quick exercise and fresh air.
What advice would you give to someone applying and interviewing for graduate school?
My advice has always been to apply and interview broadly. Seeing a place in person is worth so much. Even if you’re not sure about a particular school, you never know when you will end up adding someone to your network or what you could learn from a place that will help you better understand your own field of research.
My second piece of advice is to be yourself and be attentive during the interview. It’s nerve wracking, but they’ve invited you because they’re interested in you, and you are there to interview the school as much as anything. Ask questions, listen, and pay attention to the work environment, mentors, and how successful and happy the seasoned grad students are.