Student Spotlight: Brandon Bocanegra

Brandon Bocanegra (MS ’20, Cryns Lab) entered the MET Graduate Program following a summer in the MET-SROP under Christopher Bradfield. He successfully defended his MS thesis in late June and has since moved to an industry position with 3M in the Twin Cities. Before moving on to that, he took a moment to sit down and interview with Mark Marohl about his time with MET.

Where are you from and where did you do your undergraduate studies?
I am from Rochester, MN and I did my undergraduate studies at UW-Madison, majoring in biology with certificates in global health and environmental studies.

You had participated in the MET-SROP program. Can you talk a little bit about the experiences that you had, both with the research and other coursework?
I participated in the MET-SROP program after my junior year of undergrad and was in the lab of Dr. Bradfield. I really enjoyed being able to work on a project and design some of the factors in the experiments. Not only did my lab bench skills increase, but I was also able to really refine my scientific writing through various assignments throughout the summer and my presentation skills.

What attracted you to the MET graduate program?
I was interested in MET because I knew I had an interest in toxicology and learning how various exposures are impacting human health. I also am interested in environmental and public health and appreciated how the courses tie into related fields.

Describe the focus of your thesis research project?
The focus of my thesis is to understand metabolic changes which occur as a result of depriving breast cancer cells of essential nutrients. We want to understand how this change in nutrient availability alters the tumor microenvironment and could potentially make the tumors more sensitive to therapeutic drugs in combination with nutrient deprivation.

Can you talk a little bit about the job you will be moving to, following your defense?
I will be working as a toxicology analyst for Pace Analytical servicing 3M in the Twin Cities (MN). This involves writing hazard summaries and describing how 3M’s medial devices biologically interact with the patient. Through these reports we want to show that the medical devices being used and coming to market are safe for human use and will interact in a non toxic way.

You did a lot of research, applying, and interviewing to find this position. Can you talk a little bit about strategies you utilized that you found particularly useful to share?
The most useful strategies I could share are starting by researching the position or field you want to be in, then trying to find people you may know (or MET alum) who work in similar fields. Luckily, I was able to connect with MET alum and make connections at the Midwest society of toxicology which allowed me to pick the brains of people working in the field I was attempting to enter and just try to get any and all advice I could from them. For interviews, it is very important to do research on the company and position and also generate questions to show that you are well prepared. The biggest piece of advice I could share from this experience is to not get discourage and to keep applying and making connections, you only need to hear one “yes.”

What is your favorite outside-of-lab hobby?
Outside of lab, my biggest hobby is basketball.

Looking back, what advice would you give a student who is just starting graduate school?
The biggest advice I have for someone starting grad school is just to explore various interests during this time. Students here have a great opportunity to explore so many different fields and work with experts in those fields, you never know what you might become interested in. Another piece of advice going off that is just to use this time to get out of your comfort zone and discover things you may not have known you enjoy, not just research related. Finding out something you don’t enjoy can be just as useful, then you know you have to pivot what you are doing. Overall, just enjoy the process and know you can always contact anyone in the MET office for advice or questions (I did this all the time).