Student Success Story: Anthony Patelunas


  1. Tell me about your educational path.

I started my undergraduate career as a Marine Biology major at Stockton College in New Jersey, then transferred to Stony Brook University as a Marine Vertebrate Biology major. While there, I found an opportunity working with a professor on a plastics degradation project in marine environments. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of research and working in a laboratory. After graduating, I applied to various graduate schools and attended New Mexico State University from January 2012 to August 2013. During my master’s degree, I researched and worked to identify and define the vascular network in a dedicated bacteriogenic organ of a squid. I also trained on microscopes under the core microscopy director, Peter Cooke. Visualizing the architecture of tissue in three dimensions at high resolution is so outstanding; it feels futuristic. After completing the master’s program, I enrolled in the University of Connecticut’s PhD program for Molecular and Cell Biology.

  1. Tell me about your PhD path. On what area are you focusing?

The MCB department requires 3 rotations of new PhD students. My first rotation was with Dave Knecht doing live imaging on a model amoeba. I had an outstanding time and learned a lot from Dr. Knecht and the two graduate students with which I worked. My second rotation was with Dr. Mary Rumpho who worked on sea slug algae symbiosis. My third and final rotation was with Dr. Goldhamer. The lab studies skeletal muscle development, regeneration, and disease which is perfect work with microscopy and studying tissue structure. Currently my project is investigating how adult skeletal muscle stem cells develop.

  1. What are your future career goals?

When I aimed for my PhD during my undergraduate career, I wanted to be a marine biology professor. I’m still interested in being a professor, but I have learned about many career options and my primary goal is to become a research scientist at a government agency or lab. My long term goal is to work in science administration and policy.

  1. What resources are you using to guide and support your career path?

I use a wide variety of resources to support my career path. For example, I have a twitter account that’s science focused. I follow scientists that do things I would be interested in doing in the future. Also, I constantly try to meet new people and forge relationships with people doing what I’d like to be doing. Once a week, I check job boards to see what is currently out there and what the requirements are. Even though I’m still at least a few years from finishing, I need to train now for what I want to do next. Lastly, I have also reached out to my advisor and professors for career advice and the Center for Career Development for a CV critique and career counseling.

  1. Tell me about a goal you have set for yourself and how you have achieved it or intend to achieve it.

I set small goals every day and constantly re-evaluate my intermediate and long term goals. A short term goal I have set for myself is to finish collecting the mouse embryo set I need. I was able to complete this goal by staying on top of my calendar. As for an intermediate goal, I strived to be accepted to the Woods Hole summer program. I began writing my admissions essays two months prior to the deadline so I could allocate enough time for editing and revising. In addition, I create daily and weekly to-do lists and prioritize using a calendar. Overall, when it comes to reaching a goal, perseverance is key.

  1. What activities are you involved in outside of the classroom?

I was a senator in the Graduate Student Senate serving on three committees and was recently elected President for next year. Also, I am a founding member of the Graduate Organization: Molecular and Cellular Biology (GO:MCB) and currently serve as the treasurer. Lastly, I take courses outside my discipline through open education platforms, including edX and Coursera.

  1. Which of your skills do you feel are going to be most useful to you moving forward?

I think that my leadership and networking skills are going to be the most useful. Also, being able to consider problems and solutions from many different angles will be beneficial.

  1. Do you have any advice for students in building their network?

Be proactive; be engaged; never stop. Approach every person you meet with curiosity. When you first meet them, you most likely won’t know who they are, where they’re from, or what you might learn through the connection. Also, always consider how your skills can help someone else in their learning and pursuits. In addition, seek out opportunities to meet new people.

  1. Have you had any mentors in your past? If so, how have they guided you throughout your journey?

I’ve had a lot of mentors that influenced my path. In high school, my freshman biology teacher, Stephen Bingley, helped me find a passion for marine biology. While at Stony Brook, the professor I researched under, Dr. Katherine Aubrecht, and my Ichthyology professor, Dr. Kurt Bretsch, guided me through graduate school applications and helped train the beginning stages of my research. During my MS, my PI, Dr. Michele Nishiguchi, helped to sculpt my research and my goals. Dr. Peter H. Cooke directly trained me on all the microscopes in the core facility, helped identify approaches for my research, and discussed job prospects and life. He truly helped spark my passion for microscopy and his guidance has been indispensable.
Here at UConn, the professors in my department, especially my PI David Goldhamer, and the more senior graduate students are great mentors. They not only help with my research training, but also guide my decisions outside of the lab. For example, they provide advice on how to approach career goals, life outside of school, etc.

  1. What prompted you to apply to the summer training program at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts?

I first heard of MBL in high school while I was searching for marine biology undergraduate programs. In college, I was a marine biology major and dreamed of working at Woods Hole. When I joined Dr. Goldhamer’s lab, he suggested I apply to the Woods Hole summer program in embryology. He had attended the program while in graduate school as a TA and thought that I would benefit a lot based on my past experience.

  1. Do you have any advice for graduate students to take advantage of similar opportunities?

Be proactive. Spend time searching for fellowships, scholarships, and opportunities in line with your interests. Keep a text file of opportunities and deadlines. Reach out to professors, other graduate students, and mentors to ask about opportunities. If you’re rejected from a program or fellowship, try again and find another. Always stay optimistic and push forward. Keep yourself uncomfortable; discomfort is a vector for growth and intellectual stimulation.

By Ellen Morelli
Ellen Morelli Career Intern