There’s no one path to becoming a scientist, and Adrienne Kambouris is using her own experiences to help empower others to see that nontraditional med and PhD students are still going to become amazing doctors and scientists.
Adrienne Kambouris is an MD/PhD student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Adrienne is an army veteran and served 10 years before starting undergrad at Augusta University to pursue her lifelong goal of becoming a doctor. She was also pregnant with her third child when she started her science courses! Adrienne is going into the fifth year of her MD/PhD program and a Tillman Scholar.
On Instagram, Adrienne shares advice and her experience as an MD/PhD student. Whether it’s guidance on the application process, information about what MD/PhD life looks like, or raising 3 kids during undergrad or while working full-time on an MD/PhD, Adrienne’s videos are insightful and it’s clear she is passionate about empowering others!
How did you get into STEM?
I thought of undergrad as the first step in the staircase of becoming a doctor. I thought that I would take these courses and do research to check the boxes of “a good applicant.” But as I progressed through my degrees, I fell in love with the intricacies of biology and chemistry and began to develop my own questions. And I was fortunate to be given complete control over my undergraduate research project. Both of these drove me to apply as an MD/PhD student.
What does the average day in your field for you look like?
Currently, I’m in the lab full time working on my thesis project. I can be doing prep work, such as cell cultures and infections, processing samples by extracting cholesterol or amplifying genes, or interpreting data. You can also find me reading papers, attending seminars, or serving on recruiting panels.
Who inspires/what motivates you in STEM?
You would think that it would be finding answers, but I love when experiments work the most. You put a lot of thought and work into designing an experiment and on the first few tries they don’t work. You continue to design and optimize so that when you finally do get data, you’re confident that it will answer the question that you’re asking. So when you finally get the output that you are seeking, that joy is so incredible. It’s validating that you’re able to think about a question then come up with your own way to answer it. That motivates me to continue to ask questions.
What’s been your experience being a veteran in STEM and graduate school?
It’s just another aspect of who I am. It gives me another lens to view life and allows me to speak about a lifestyle that only 1% of Americans can attest to. I remember when I was in physics class and we were learning about potential/kinetic energy. The professor asked how many people have fired a rifle and I was the only person to raise my hand. My experience also allows me to help other veterans transition into higher education and STEM professions.
How would you describe your research interests?
I’m in a molecular microbiology and immunology program with a focus on microbial pathogenesis. In simpler terms, I study how bacteria establish infection. I study Chlamydia, investigating how this microorganism changes gene expression in the host cell to enhance infection.
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
Every time I learn and successfully complete a new lab technique. I had a lot of anxiety about becoming a scientist, wondering if I would be able to successfully accomplish it. So every time I learn something new and build my expertise and repertoire is exciting to me.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about
Science is governed by so many oversights, committees, and rules. From the grant process, ethics committees, internal review boards, peer reviews, rigor and reproducibility, etc., there is a lot more internal policing than I believe the general public knows about. The age of the mad scientist is on it’s way out, I believe.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
I was attending a Tillman Summit and one of the panels was on imposter syndrome. One of the Scholars, LaChiana Hamilton, stated, “I belong where my feet are.” You could feel the ripple of impact through the audience. Since then, I’ve added this mantra to my life and felt more confident and secure in what I was doing.
How is being a mother and earning your bachelors and MD/PhD?
Hectic. I’m very deliberate about my time and energy, ensuring that I don’t spread myself too thin (a lesson I learned slowly over time). I try to give my children a quality of time over a quantity of time. And I also remind myself that if I worked full time, these would be hours that I would not be interacting with my children. So why should it differ if I’m using that same amount of time to work toward a goal? It also helps to compartmentalize. When I’m at work, I’m a medical student and scientist. When I’m at home, I’m a mom and wife. It allows me to focus on each task individually.
How did you decide to pursue the MD/PhD track?
I’ve always wanted to be a physician. I love patient care and improving their health and quality of life. It was while I was in undergrad working toward this goal that I fell in love with science and research. When I realized that I couldn’t chose one over the other, I decided to do both.