During the early portion of his University of Georgia experience, Jay D. Patel says his primary directive was “don’t worry, be happy,” to pursue fun and entertainment at every turn. But midway through his second year at UGA, Jay had a revelation that pointed him to the professional path he intends to passionately follow.
“During my sophomore year, I went on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Bluefield, W.Va., and had one of the best experiences of my life,” says Jay, an Honors Student who will graduate in May 2012 with degrees in biochemistry & molecular biology and economics. “Even though I was all about just enjoying life, there was a stronger force driving me to work hard. I realized that I wanted service to be a significant part of my life.”
Upon his return to campus, Jay considered pursuing a master's in international development but soon determined he could make a more positive impact on the disenfranchised when he “made the connection between research and service.”
He chose parasitology (the study of parasites) as his field of study and jumped in with both feet, completing significant work through UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO), where he served as a summer research fellow and presented his findings at symposiums in both Athens and Costa Rica.
“CURO definitely had a role in getting my research started,” says Jay, who this summer worked at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. “The best thing about the CURO Summer Fellowship is that it puts you in the life of a graduate student – you spend your entire day in the lab and focus all your efforts on one research. You get a feel for what it’s like to be a scientist.”
Jay then wrestled with discerning the route that would quench his thirst for public service and social justice. Would he be more valuable as a medical doctor, treating those who suffered from the parasites he studied, or as a physician-scientist, pinpointing the best methods for diminishing and eliminating the deadly organisms?
After taking part in the symposium at UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and hearing from keynote speaker Dr. William Petri of the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, Jay selected the direction his future would take.
“During his presentation, it hit me that research has the potential to find a way toward social justice through global health," says Jay, who has worked for the past two years in Dr. Striepen’s laboratory within the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “Petri did a lot of work on parasites and as an MD/PhD, he was able to apply his clinical knowledge and background directly to his molecular research and make a significant impact in underdeveloped parts of the world.
“Dr. Petri has been able to do some amazing research, and that helped me gauge the potential of a career in between basic science and medicine. I felt that this kind of research was the more effective way to make a difference. Since then, I’ve been dedicated to trying to get into medical school so that I can one day be at the forefront of translational research.”
UGA was the only college Jay applied to, and he has come to the conclusion that he came to Athens looking for one thing and will leave having luckily found much more.
“The Honors Program is a great resource, and it is difficult to take advantage of all the resources the program offers in four short years. And CURO has been extremely helpful to me to focus in on my interest in science. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the world’s brightest scientists at UGA, and this has given my future direction.”
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