Where Are They Now: Jasmine May

Jasmine May.

Goldwater recipient Jasmine May (front, center) on a “call day custard run.”

Jasmine May, a 2012 UB Graduate and Recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, is Currently a Neurology Resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Where are you currently studying/working?

I graduated with an MD-PhD from Northwestern in 2020 and I am now a neurology resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in inpatient services. I am also continuing to enjoy teaching medical students and pursuing mentorship opportunities when possible.

What is an MD-PhD degree and why did you choose this program?

The whole program is eight years. The first two years of an MD-PhD are what we call the “pre-clinical” years—book learning and lectures. Then I did four years for the PhD in biology. Then I did my third year of medical school which was the first year of clinicals. During the fourth year of medical school I had a lot more time off to interview for residency.

I got into research at UB through the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) summer research program the summer after my freshman year. Following that, there was a postdoc that wanted me to work in his lab and I ended up working with him in the lab of Dr. Mark T. Swihart and Dr. Paras Prasad for the rest of my time at UB as an undergrad. I really enjoyed doing the research but I realized that I felt very distant from the people I wanted to impact with my research. If you get a PhD in a science field you have to really love that one specific niche thing that you’re studying. That works for some people. But I wanted more avenues and options open to me. I like to consider myself an outgoing person and I knew that I would miss [extraversion] in my career as well.

I was initially pre-pharmacy and I realized I didn’t want to be a pharmacist. Then I switched to medicinal chemistry and thought I would do research and get a PhD. But that seemed too distant and not quite in line with my personality. So I decided do the MD but I still wanted to get the training on how to do good research.

What was your experience like with CSTEP?

I loved CSTEP. It was through CSTEP that I was introduced to the world of research and made networking connections with some of the people I still consider important parts of my life to this day. They also provided me support when I was applying for the Goldwater Scholarship. I applied for one of their scholarships, the Kaplan scholarship, which helped cover my MCAT classes. I was one of the first groups to go through their UNYTS program to increase organ donorship in NYS. It was also through them that I got to give back and do mentoring with earlier years, which went on my CV and probably also helped me get placement. Part of the reason I chose Northwestern was that I wanted a place that basically had their own CSTEP. At Northwestern, they have the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which helps support underrepresented minorities in groups and supports them through the medical school system.

What sparked your interest in your research?

The research that I did for my PhD focused on the metabolism in glioblastoma (a Grade 4 brain tumor) and studying metabolic drivers of its growth. We looked at a particular enzyme and modified its expression to demonstrate that when it was not present, the cells didn’t grow as well. We demonstrated the impact [the enzyme] had on the overall metabolic profile of the cells and its interaction with another enzyme. My research could be a stepping stone to identify targets for therapeutic development.

I was interested in seeking out a lab studying glioblastoma because of my personal experience, but I had previous cancer biology research exposure. I was initially interested in doing some nanoparticle work, similar to what I had done with Dr. Swihart and with Dr. Prasad. The lab that I joined collaborates with a big nanotech lab at Northwestern, but my project shifted away from nanotech and more towards metabolism.

What are your current academic or career goals and interests?

I want to have a clinical presence, so taking care of patients. I want to have an educational aspect to my career, maybe as a medical educator and work myself into an administrative position as a dean. With regards to research, that’s still up in the air. I do see research as having some part of my life, whether it’s me running a lab or consulting or assisting with other basic science labs, helping them with the medical perspective on what they’re doing.

What was applying for the Goldwater like and what did you learn in the process?

Elizabeth contacted me through my now-husband (whom she was mentoring through the Honors College) and thought I would be a good candidate for the Goldwater. I remember sitting down and talking with her about it and feeling completely and entirely overwhelmed by the whole process, not quite believing that it would be feasible for me to go for. I remember describing it as this ‘giant mountain.’

I learned through completing that process that most things that seem insurmountable in a brief glance can be overcome if broken down into small steps. If you have a timeline and you set individual deadlines for each part it’s easier to digest. Congratulate yourself for the small wins like filling out the demographics sheet as well as the bigger wins like finally having a draft of the personal statement after going back and forth with your mentors.

Once [the application] was finally done, it was a relief and it was terrifying at the same time. I thought, “Well, I gave it a good shot.” When I found out that I got [the Goldwater], I was sitting in the law library. I wanted to yell but I knew I couldn’t, so I ran out and did it outside. I couldn’t believe it.

What person had a big impact on you at UB?

Probably the person that had the biggest impact on me while I was at UB was Folarin Erogbogbo. He taught the CSTEP research class and summer research experience that I did. I doubt I would be where I am today if it weren’t for him. He had high aspirations for me and pushed me farther than I would have pushed myself alone. He helped me with my Goldwater application and my MD/PhD application and interviewing. He was a big part of my undergraduate experience.

One of the things that he told me that I have not let go of is, ‘don’t tell yourself no before you give someone else a chance.’ Meaning, don’t stop yourself from taking advantage of opportunities that could end up being a success just because you think it won’t work out. Apply for experiences even if think you are under experienced or not qualified enough. A lot of opportunities go by without anyone taking advantage of them.

What do you wish you had known when you were a first-year student?

Don’t be dumb when you’re young. I think our country has an unfortunate setup where everyone expects you to know exactly what you’re going for when you get to college. Take those four years and figure out what it is you want to do with your life. Take the time; don’t rush it. Explore a whole bunch of different things. UB has a lot to offer in that regard. Explore the sciences. If you like it, great. Stick with it. If not, explore the arts, explore language. There’s so many interesting classes to take at UB that are covered by your tuition. I took Japanese for two years and a photography class. I participated in the Dazzler’s dance team, which was like a full-time commitment. There’s probably not going to be another time in your life when you can try so many different things in one place.

What would you do on a Saturday with no obligations?

If it’s a beautiful day out and it’s summertime in Chicago, then probably my husband and I would start the day off walking to one of our favorite breakfast spots in Lake View. From there we might go to a bookstore, then to a spice house and get coffee. We’d come home and relax for a little bit, maybe play video games together, read, or watch TV. Later on in the evening we’d meet up with friends to have dinner out somewhere.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I worked on the MSTP admissions committee while I was in grad school, so I can speak to what MD-PhD programs look for and some sense of what MD and PhD only programs look for. Anyone interested in applying for MD-PhD can feel free to reach out to me at Jasmine.may@northwestern.edu.

This interview was conducted by Lisa Gagnon in January 2020 and updated in fall 2020. The interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.