Motivation, networking, and hard work earn a biomolecular science student an impressive internship

When Natalia Trayanova, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, spoke at NYU Tandon’s 2020 Women in STEM Summit, she told her audience: “You will undoubtedly face rejection in your careers ... Let those rejections fuel you. Let them fill you with determination to persevere and keep working towards your goals."

Brittaney TiffaultBrittney Tiffault, then a junior majoring in Biomolecular Science, knew that was solid advice, but she also recognized a fortuitous opportunity to lessen the possibility of at least one rejection.

Tiffault had recently applied for a highly competitive research internship at Johns Hopkins that would allow her to get valuable lab experience, interact with faculty members, and even shadow a medical resident during hospital rounds. And here was a Johns Hopkins biomedical engineer, standing right in the MakerSpace, speaking about the importance of women and other underrepresented groups getting involved in the STEM fields, and giving encouraging advice. It was an ideal situation in which to introduce herself in person, let Trayanova know just how serious she was about forging a career as a physician-scientist, and make an indelible impression.

She obviously succeeded because the next day she received word: she had been accepted into the Pulmonary and Critical Care division of the program.

“I’m so grateful that Associate Dean for Student Affairs Anita Farrington plans the Women in STEM Summit each year,” Tiffault says. “I really believe being able to make my case in person was a deciding factor in my admission, and I would not have gotten that chance if I hadn’t been at the event.” 

She also credits her participation in the Leadership Alliance, a national consortium of more than 30 leading research and teaching institutions, including NYU, whose mission is to encourage students from a wide range of cultural and academic backgrounds to work towards research-based careers.

Through the Alliance, she spent the summer between her sophomore and junior years as part of NYU Langone Health’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, searching for biomarkers for pancreatic cancer under the direction of noted physician-scientist Diane Simeone. Simeone, Farrington, and Trayanova have not been the only ones impressed by Triffault and eager to see her attain her goals.

“From the minute I entered NYU Tandon, I have been cheered on and mentored,” she said. “For example, Kalle Levon, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who is known for his work in assisting clinicians with point-of-care diagnostics, invited me to volunteer in his lab, and I don’t think there are many other schools where a first-year student could find themselves doing hands-on work in a high-level university lab with a professor of that caliber.”

Associate Dean Farrington has an explanation for why Tiffault has thrived so fully at Tandon. “The important takeaway here is that when you have a highly motivated student like Brittney, combined with a school that is committed to and recognizes that inclusion, diversity, belonging, and equity are the keys to student excellence, it yields tangible results and opportunities for students,” Farrington said. “She is undoubtedly going to go on to do great things, and we will be proud to have played a part in that.”