SMU senior biology major accepted to Harvard Medical School

Senior Janice Kim presented her dissertation, “p53-Dependent survival signaling may promote oncogene-activation during viral carcinogenesis,” in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Departmental Distinction Program on May 1.

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Senior Janice Kim. Courtesy of SMU.

Kim has been working on her thesis for about three and a half years. She chose her topic during the start of her first year after attending a meeting at the premed office.

“All the professors came, talked about their research and gave you a feel for the opportunities undergraduates could take,” Kim said. “I chose the professor I liked the best and that was Dr. Harrod.”

Robert Harrod, Ph.D, teaches biological sciences at SMU. His research interests include molecular biology, pathogenesis of human retroviruses and mechanisms of viral carcinogenesis.

Kim further explains why she chose Dr. Harrod out of all the other biology research professors.

“I liked his field of research about leukemia and more specifically how leukemia develops,” Kim said. “I approached him fall semester freshman year, introduced myself and said I was interested in researching with him.”

Most professors usually select upperclassmen to work with in their specified field of research. However, Harrod acknowledged her interest despite her younger age.

“After I expressed my interest, I wasn’t expecting anything because they usually take upperclassmen,” Kim said. “But he said ‘okay, why don’t you start now?’ I started spring semester and I’ve been with him ever since.”

Over three years later, her undergraduate research is complete. In layman’s terms, Kim summarizes her dissertation:

“My dissertation is about how a virus Dr. Harrod is studying, human leukemia t-cell virus type 1, causes leukemia,” Kim said. “The proteins of that virus, like p30 and p53, deregulate, or cause the over expression of cellular proteins to go awry in the pathway, and that leads to adult T-cell leukemia lymphoma.”

Kim credits part of her success to Dr. Harrod. She says he pushed her to do things beyond the limit, like applying for the Hamilton scholarship to further her undergraduate research.

“I love Dr. Harrod as my mentor; he’s always been there for me if I had questions and I could always go to him for anything,” Kim said. “He’s been a very supportive mentor and the best kind of mentor you can have as a research professor.”

Harrod filled out one of her recommendation letters when she applied for medical school. Kim applied to multiple schools in Texas and out-of-state schools like Harvard.

Kim has been accepted to Harvard Medical School and will start graduate school in the coming fall semester. She said she chose the school because she was interested in their diversity of experiences and soft-science research, like biomedical anthropology, which is her minor. If she chooses to get her M.D. PhD in biomedical anthropology, she hopes to pursue a career in global health.

“I’m really interested in Global Health and I can credit part of that to Dr. Bing who teaches global health class here at SMU,” Kim said. “In five years I can see myself still learning and eventually take my skills and apply them- go abroad and see from start to finish the development of global health in an area.”

Kim says her acceptance to Harvard Medical School has not changed her persona in any way.

“You’re not going to change because of some physical validation or from getting accepted into a certain school- you’re going to still be the same person and have the same capabilities as you did before,” Kim said.

Kim will graduate this May. As her journey at SMU comes to a close, she sums up her undergraduate experience.

“I would like to thank everyone who’s impacted me: my family, my friends and my mentors: Dr. Harrod, Dr. Bing, Dr. Smith-Morris,” Kim said. “I realized in college I learned a lot in the classroom, but also through outside experiences, and I’m glad I found that at SMU.”

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