Enrolling at Stony Brook University as a shy student from upstate New York, Janki Patel ’17 could have never envisioned the leader she would become.
“Coming from a small high school, I didn’t have the academic opportunities that many of my friends had and I already felt I was at a disadvantage as a freshman,” she said.
But as a member of the University Scholars program, which encourages stewardship and leadership in addition to academic dedication, Janki made a smooth adjustment to campus life and her confidence grew by leaps and bounds.
Without prior research experience, Janki joined International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM), a global organization that encourages student researchers to engineer biological systems to benefit the community. Stony Brook competed on an international stage, and along with 10 other undergraduates, Janki was able to earn a bronze medal in 2014 for research she conducted on combatting antibiotic-resistant infections.
Janki and her team used the mechanisms of biological engineering to mass-produce a natural honeybee compound in E. coli that could fight infections by breaking through their cell membranes.
Janki came away from the experience with much more than newly acquired prestige and kudos — the research process improved her written and oral communications skills, she learned how to collaborate with her peers and mentors, and by writing grants and papers, creating posters and delivering presentations, she gained perhaps the most valuable tool of all — the ability to communicate science lucidly.
Following that success, one of her iGEM faculty advisors recruited her as a research assistant for another project, studying the RNA-binding protein Hnrpab, which is thought to play a role in nervous system development. Mutations of Hnrpab are suspected of causing neurological disorders, but the mechanism of the protein needs to be better understood.
Janki’s first leadership role actually came through her involvement with the Undergraduate Biochemistry Society, a student-run organization that fosters a sense for community for students interested in the life sciences. From being an active member of the group in her freshman year, Janki took on the role of outreach director as a sophomore, organizing interactive science workshops with the Child Life department at Stony Brook University Hospital. From making slime to lava lamps and color symphonies, she and her fellow volunteers taught the in-patient children how to perform simple science experiments.
Her success as outreach director led to her serving as the club’s president for two years. “I found myself being able to run club meetings and speak extemporaneously in front of audiences,” Janki said.
This experience primed Janki for selection to the Women’s Leadership Council, a program aimed at breaking down barriers for high-achieving women at Stony Brook, in her junior year. The council is made up of successful alumnae and friends of the university and provides career advice, expands members’ professional networks, recommends internships and offers help in applying to medical school.
Janki excelled on the academic front as well with her selection as a Paul Lichte Teaching Fellow for the Department of Chemistry over the course of three years, was a valedictorian award recipient and received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in her senior year.
“Receiving SUNY’s highest distinction was truly a delight because it meant the emphasis I placed on leadership and campus involvement impacted the community,” Janki said.
As Janki sets out on her path to becoming a physician this fall at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a number of her life experiences shape her perspective.
“Growing up in the medically underserved area of Binghamton, having seen the lack of healthcare in developing countries such as India, observing as an intern, and dealing with acne as a teenager all taught me valuable lessons about patient care,” she says. “I hope to incorporate being a teacher into my role as a physician, and to prevent the patient-physician relationship from lapsing into the routine of meet, greet, prescribe and repeat.”