Junior Eyes Genetics Career


When she first arrived on campus, biology major Annie Gagnon ’17 of Seekonk, Mass., had plans to embark upon a lab-based career in the biotechnology sector, but she changed her mind after she took a few courses on genetics.

“I decided that I wanted a career that allowed me to work with and help people on a more direct level,” Gagnon said.

Now, she aims to become a genetic counselor in a clinical setting, where she can focus on pediatric patients. To achieve that goal, she plans to go on to graduate school a few months after she completes her bachelor’s degree.

“What interests me most about human genetics is that it’s starting to play a huge role in healthcare and medicine. Because we know so much about the human genome, doctors can now better screen for diseases and provide personalized treatments,” Gagnon explained.

Last summer, she served an internship at the Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Student Program in Bar Harbor, Maine, which places aheavy focus on biomedical research and genetics.

There, she worked on a project involving exfoliation syndrome glaucoma.

“I was involved with genotyping mice and human DNA, performing clinical exams on mice to look for signs of exfoliation syndrome, microscopy, and using bioinformatics to examine genetic data,” Gagnon explained. In addition, “I was able to learn and improve on many lab skills.”

“My project concluded with a list of potential genes that will need to be studied further, and new data on further development of a mouse model for exfoliative glaucoma,” she said.

Although Gagnon enjoyed the lab research she conducted during the internship, it solidified her decision to enter a clinical-based career, instead. “The skills I learned over the summer have had a great impact on my technique and confidence in my labs and classes at MCLA,” she added.

In addition to her studies, Gagnon is the captain of the women’s cross country team, and participates in a number of academic activities, such as the Student Teacher in Class Support (STICS) program for a first grade class in nearby Sullivan Elementary School, and Teaching to Learn, where this semester she is teaching a unit on food webs in a local fifth grade class.

She also participates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in Action, where she performs science experiments with middle school students in the afterschool program. Gagnon also was a mentor last fall in the MCLA scholarship program, STEM Pathways, when she worked with freshman, sophomore and transfer students.

As a supplemental instructor for Organic Chemistry classes 1 and 2, Gagnon holds biweekly study sessions with the students in those courses.

“Teaching science to elementary school, middle school, and college students is one of best ways to learn the subject. In order to teach a topic you have to have a great enough understanding to simplify and explain it,” she said.

“I would definitely recommend MCLA and the biology department,” Gagnon said. “The professors in the department are passionate about teaching students, and small class sizes allow them to get to know their students on a personal level. The lab spaces in the Center for Science and Innovation allow students to get involved in research and learn lab-based skills that are crucial for employment and prepare them to excel at a graduate level.”