Tania Betancourt, Biomedical Engineering IE Graduate Mentor

Tania Betancourt I had the pleasure of mentoring Dariela Almeda, a junior student of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She began working as a researcher in my laboratory through the TREX program during the Fall 2005 semester. During that first semester Dariela was very excited about research but did not know much about the application process, or even about how to fund her studies. The IE Internship allowed us to bridge this gap by creating a space destined specifically to introducing Dariela to a number of facets of graduate studies.

During the IE internship we focused our activities in three main directions: (1) hands-on research in the area of pharmaceutical engineering, (2) investigation of the various graduate programs available for Dariela's interests, and (3) introduction to aspects of graduate education.

Dariela did her own research in the optimization of some of the key variables for preparation of polymeric nanoparticles for drug delivery. She found research to be very rewarding and most helpful in her quest for knowledge about graduate school life. Dariela approached research with great enthusiasm and was very diligent at testing various hypotheses, organizing the data, and gathering conclusions from it. The results from her research have allowed us to reduce the time of preparation of these nanoparticles significantly and will definitely be valuable for our group in the future. In fact, Dariela submitted her work for presentation in the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Meeting that will be held in San Antonio, Texas, later this year. Her work was accepted to this prestigious meeting, and with the generous support from the IE travel grant both her and myself will be able to present our work there.

During this semester Dariela and I also went to a few seminars so that she could become familiar with some of the novel topics being researched in her field, and also so that she could see how research groups from all over the world worked in collaboration to further their knowledge. Finally, we also looked into the various medical and MD/PhD programs that were available in Texas, the application processes for these programs, and the various opportunities that were available for financing her advanced studies. For researching this information we mostly used online resources, including those provided by the UT Office of Graduate Studies.

The IE Internship has been an invaluable experience, not only because it allowed me to mentor Dariela in a more formal manner and to be infected with her enthusiasm, but in addition because it allowed me to learn from other mentors that were also involved in this program. It was very interesting for me to learn about how each mentor utilized a totally different method to guide their mentees in the discovery of research, graduate school, and life after their undergraduate degree. These methods ranged from very structured ones with goals and deadlines, to less structured ones that just involved more of an open conversational relationship. What I have learned here will surely help me as I continue to mentor undergraduate students, but also when I move on to other roles in the future.