Romario Thomas is heading south after earning his undergraduate biology degree this spring at St. Francis College. On July 1, he will start his first job as a college graduate, as a lab technician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The Duke job is not Romario's first foray into a prestigious university research environment. Last summer, he was selected to take part in The Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program, allowing him to work at labs at both Harvard and at the renowned Boston Children's Hospital.
A stand-out athlete on the St. Francis College Track & Field team, Romario, who enrolled in St. Francis College from his native Jamaica, plans to attend medical school eventually.
Romario will address his fellow graduates as a student speaker at the College's online celebration for the Class of 2020, taking place on June 20th. He recently discussed his next chapter and reflected on his years at St. Francis College.
How did you land your Duke job?
This job stemmed from my work as a student intern at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University last summer [read more about Romario's participation in The Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program].
In that program, I made sure to represent myself and my school to the best of my abilities. That allowed me to develop a relationship with April Craft, the principal investigator at the lab. She connected me with some of her former colleagues at Duke University. In addition, Joseph Senisi from special events connected me with his friend who is an OBGYN Resident at Duke university and he also helped to point me in the right direction. I was introduced to the Office of Physician-Scientist Development – OPSD – at Duke. I submitted my CV there and they matched me with the lab that offered me a job.
How did your Harvard University opportunity come about?
The chance to go to Harvard was all thanks to the belief Dr. [Victoria] Ruiz [Assistant Professor of Biology] and Dr. [Alison] Dell
[Assistant Professor of Biology] had in me. Without them I wouldn't have even known about the program.
It's really difficult for an international student to find opportunities like that. There are so many barriers. Many programs are federally funded, and international students can't take advantage of them.
Dr. Ruiz sat with me and said, "there has to be something." And she started searching the Internet and found The Harvard Stem Cell Institute Internship Program that is open to international students. After I submitted my application, I found out more than 700 students worldwide applied. I was accepted.
Describe the role of Dr. Ruiz played your success at St. Francis College.
She played many roles, and she still does. She's a rock star.
I could depend on her to nudge me in the right direction. Not telling me "this is what you have to do," but I would lay out all my options and she'd give me her opinion. I highly value her opinion. So far, she has not been wrong as a mentor.
With Duke, I messaged her the day before my interview. It was my first real-world job interview, and she dropped what she was doing to help me. We went on a Zoom call so she could give me pointers. I have to say I had a great interview because of that. That's her going beyond her call of duty. I know for a fact that all the professors in the biology department have the same attitude towards students.
What are your responsibilities at Duke?
I will be a lab technician working in the biomedical research department studying microphysiological systems.
The lab where I will work creates these systems to test the efficacy of drugs used to treat certain physiological diseases in vitro. So, the bulk of my work will be stem cell culturing and monitoring these systems to see in what concentrations drugs work.
What are your long-term career goals?
I'm going to spend two years at Duke as a lab technician, then I will move on to medical school.
St. Francis College taught me to always be prepared. I'm always ready to take on the next challenge. Every step I take, I train myself to be the best version of myself I can be. Not only to represent myself, but to represent my community.
So, my aim in the next two years is to become a better scientist, a person better equipped to deal with the challenges of medical school, and a better candidate for medical school.
What makes you most proud about your career at St. Francis College?
What I experienced at St. Francis College is priceless. It has enabled me to develop a Franciscan spirit, and I view that as an accomplishment. I'm able to go out in the world and share that with others.
I'm proud of the person that St. Francis College helped me become.