Paige Ramkissoon: from student to scientist

Paige Ramkissoon in the hallways of The Jackson Laboratory. Photo credit: Tiffany Laufer Paige Ramkissoon in the hallways of The Jackson Laboratory. Photo credit: Tiffany Laufer

When Paige Ramkissoon finished her undergraduate studies at Ithaca College, she wanted to continue pursuing research but didn’t feel ready for the challenges of graduate school. The Postbac program at JAX provided an ideal stepping stone.

Paige Ramkissoon will soon depart the Postbaccalaureate Training at JAX program to pursue her Ph.D. at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Postbac at JAX is a two-year individualized fellowship that provides recent college graduates hands-on lab experience, opportunities for professional development and personalized graduate school preparation through JAX Genomic Education and community-building among groups underrepresented in the sciences. Paige recently reflected on how her time at JAX has prepared her for the next step in her academic training.

Q. What have you been working on over the last two years as a postbaccalaureate trainee?

A. I’ve been conducting research on cancer metastasis, or the process by which cancer spreads from a primary site to other sites in the body. I’ve specifically studied the spread of lung cancer. In Carol Bult’s lab, I’ve been characterizing two novel mouse models to see if we can generate one that more closely mirrors the spread of cancer in humans — a condition that happens quickly and often reaches advanced stages by the time patients seek help from a doctor. If we can mimic that environment in a mouse model, we can test new ways to treat or prevent the spread. 

Q. How did you first get involved in scientific research?

A. I started as an undergrad and discovered that I really loved working in the lab. I didn’t come from a science background. My parents emigrated from the island of Trinidad and Tobago before I was born, so I’m a first-generation college student. I grew up thinking of research as simply a requirement to get into medical school. Now I know there are so many different facets to it, and it can be so fun! I love helping other scientists explore their options and find that same joy.

Q. What’s been your favorite part about being a Postbac at JAX?

A. I have a couple of answers for this. Before JAX, I’d never been anything other than a student, and I feel I’ve really grown beyond that during my time here. When you’re in school, your learning is very structured; you’re working toward a test, an item on the syllabus or the end of a term. At JAX, I’ve had the freedom to explore the topics that interest me — and not just in the lab, but in other areas like art and music, too. I’ve learned to seek those things out.

I’ve also really loved working with students in the Summer Student Program. The first one I mentored is now in a Ph.D. program at Princeton University, and the second one has kept pursuing undergraduate research. I’ve enjoyed guiding them through their research projects and helping them build their confidence. At that age, the “imposter syndrome” can be intense. You’re sure you are the least intelligent person on the team, and you think the world will end if you make a mistake. We’ve all been there! I have enjoyed seeing students and peers grow beyond that fear and succeed. It’s great to share that journey with them.

Q. What might you say to donors who make the postbaccalaureate program possible?

A. It means so much to me to have had access to the incredible research opportunities at JAX. From here, I am headed to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to join their Molecular and Developmental Biology Graduate Program. I know I wouldn’t be going to a program of this caliber unless I’d had the benefit of the Postbac at JAX program. The Postbac program is also so important because it focuses on providing opportunities for people like me from backgrounds that are underrepresented in science fields. I’m grateful to everyone who advocates for us and helps us pursue careers in science.

Q. At this time of year, many up-and-coming scientists are completing their undergraduate work and facing the same transition you did before JAX. What advice would you give them?

A. I would tell them that it’s OK to not rush into graduate school if they don’t feel ready. I’d encourage them to take a gap year if possible and gain some real-world lab experience. Having completed this program, I feel like a whole person, not just a student anymore. There’s been a lot less handholding at JAX, but it is still an incredibly supportive environment. It was exactly what I needed, and I’m ready for what comes next.