Aly Gutierrez, a senior from Charlotte, NC, is a microbiology major with minors in chemistry and food and nutrition. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school and become a physician-scientist specializing in the gut microbiome.
How did you choose your major? What sparked your interest in the field?
Biology was always one of my favorite subjects in high school, but I became more specifically interested in microbiology because of how interesting it was to learn about the organisms that we can’t even see with the naked eye.
What do you like about studying microbiology at UA?
The professors who teach microbiology courses here are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about their field. They make the learning experience exciting and are able to relate the concepts to real-life applications or even their own research on campus.
What are your career goals? What about your dream job?
My goal is to be a physician-scientist that specializes in the gut microbiome and its role in health. I’m also interested in how nutrition interacts with the gut microbiome. I love research and hope that one day my lab will contribute to medical knowledge and breakthroughs.
Talk about any career-related experiences you’ve had. How did you find these opportunities?
I had a summer research internship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Dr. Jo Handelsman’s antibiotic discovery lab. I met Dr. Handelsman at a research symposium where she was the keynote speaker, and after speaking with her about my research here at UA, she offered me an internship! It was completely unexpected, and I am incredibly grateful. It also demonstrates just how important networking and strong communication skills are.
I’ve also had a few clinical experiences while at UA. My favorite would be my summer abroad trip to Peru, which was a program under the UA Honors College. Throughout the trip, we actively engaged in first-hand patient care such as triage and pharmacy, while also vastly improving our Spanish fluency.
Tell us about your experience working with the community.
As a member of the Alabama Student Association for Poetry, I had the opportunity to volunteer at The Brown House, which is a free tutoring program in a neighborhood in Northport, AL. Alongside helping the kids with homework, we held poetry workshops that often led to hilarious rhymes, impressive verses, and sometimes even rap battles. I loved getting to know the kids and hearing their ideas and creativity.
What surprised you the most about college?
What surprised me the most about college is that the professors are actually really cool! When I was a freshman, I definitely felt a bit intimidated when asking questions and whatnot. But throughout the last few years, I’ve gotten to know several of my professors and they all really care about their students’ academics and wellbeing.
How did you make friends and find community on campus?
Involvement in organizations is super important to finding the right community for yourself. Also, once you’ve picked your major and are taking classes within the department, you’ll notice some students who are in a lot of the same classes as you. Talk to them! Stressing over midterms is not the greatest, but it’s always better with a friend or two.
What advice do you have for future students?
First, don’t be afraid of your professors! They are here to teach and to support your learning. As a bonus (especially for other Pre-Med students), the earlier you start building relationships with your professors, the more likely that you’ll get a great letter of recommendation from them.
Second, don’t be afraid of rejection. Keep applying to your research positions, internships, or scholarships. It’s 100% okay to not win all of them, and just remember to keep trying your best.