2016-2017 PREP@UGA Scholars

December 2017

Greetings everyone,


PREP@UGA scholar, Troy King, with his PI, Dr. Eric Harvill.

My name is Troy Michael King Jr. and I am a PREP@UGA scholar. Today, I am going to get a bit personal and talk about the hardest part of PREP for me.

What makes a PREP scholar? By being a PREP scholar, you are acknowledging that you want to perform additional research or gain additional skills before going to graduate school. It is hard to generalize a diverse group of individuals within a program such as PREP, but I know this to be true: We want to be successful in graduate school. But what does it take to be successful? I believe that you have to focus not only on the skills you have, but moreso on the skills you want to develop.

It is currently December and I have to say that this year seems to have flown by. Applications are already due and 2017 is right around the corner. From my time in PREP over the past 5 months, I have learned one thing about myself that I feel makes me a better scientist. I acknowledge my faults. I am not a perfect student, nor a perfect scientist. If I were, I wouldn’t be in PREP. Being aware of my shortcomings has been a difficult journey for me, personally. I can’t speak for the other PREP scholars but I know self-awareness to be the single most difficult quality for me.

Within PREP, time in limited. You have 1 month to decide which lab you want, 4 months to get your applications in, and 10 months to get far enough into your research to hopefully have a lasting impact in your lab. It’s easy to tell someone what to do to get applications in on time, but instead I want to really emphasize the limited time that you have to acknowledge any shortcomings before entering graduate school. For example, I believe that I have poor time management skills, I need more confidence in my public speaking, and I do not read nearly enough science papers every day. These are shortcomings that I believe to have hindered my growth as both a scientist and a student. I am using my time in PREP to work on these flaws to increase my success within graduate school. But how would one begin such a task.


PREP@UGA scholar, Troy King, with his research mentor, Holly Vuong.

As humans, we are imperfect beings. We possess many defense mechanisms and one of the biggest obstacles to self-acknowledgement is our own self-serving bias. We have the tendency to accept successes more often than our failures. Therefore, we are the worst people to initially critique ourselves. This is where your mentor relationships come in handy. Your mentors are less bias and if you have a good relationship with them, they will be completely honest to tell you where you need to improve. Personally, the advice that I have received from my PREP mentor, Holly, and my PI, Dr. Harvill, has been crucial to my development.  By acknowledging these shortcomings, I have sought out advice from those more experienced and have gotten great advice. I would then use their advice to make improvements to my performance, track my progress, and inevitably feel a sense of accomplishment.

I hope that my advice helps,

Troy M. King Jr.


2016-2017 PREP@UGA Scholars



2015_2016 PREPscholars

2015-2016 PREP@UGA Scholars

May 2016

Howdy y’all, 

I’d be lying if I said, “I can’t believe my year in PREP is coming to an end.” The reality that it is the end of the program is constantly on my mind! We just presented our research at the Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology Symposium; I am hastily trying to finish my research projects to some logical conclusion; I am preparing to present my work at a national conference in Orlando; the undergrads are in a cold sweat as they take final exams and graduate later this week; and I am finalizing the details of my transition to Emory– go Eagles!  

Brent Allman will be attending Emory's Laney Graduate school

Brent Allman will be attending Emory’s Laney Graduate school

The things I can’t lie about? What I have learned about myself this year. The insights I have gained about my strengths and weaknesses as a scientist are invaluable. I know more intimately what I need to improve upon once I enter graduate school. I realize that during the journey ahead, I will fail (although I am still trying to accept this truth). Life in the lab requires extraordinary support and now I am better equipped to identify the type of support I need to be a success. Before PREP, I thought I was independent and self-aware, but after spending a year devoted to research, I am more conscious of the fact that these traits are tunable and developing them is key to my future as a scientist. 

Beyond the lab, I have had a few realizations in my personal life. (1) I have missed San Diego and California more than I expected. Last year it was my dream to go to UCSF, but after my interviews I had to make the hard decision to put off going back to Cali and instead make Georgia my new home. (2) Making friends takes constant effort and undergrad provided an infrastructure that I have had to function without. Being in PREP made me realize that graduate school will be more insular, and every interaction with someone is an opportunity to make a new connection. I wish I took more advantage of opportunities early on in the year. And (3) I love Beyoncé more than ever before. I was able to go to her concert in Atlanta on May 1st. It was an amazing experience to sing and dance with my idol… despite being in the nosebleed section! 

Overall, I am so thankful for this year in PREP. It really was like a dry run of the first year of graduate school! I think I achieved a few of the goals I touched on in my first blog; namely, this whole “adulting” thing is hard, but doable. My advice to the next cohort of PREP scholars would be “Get in formation,” and “Get information,” i.e. stay organized, keep a calendar, list of to-do’s, and goals, refine your professional interests by reading, reading, and reading. 

Good luck,


March 2016

Hey everyone!

Wow! Since my last post in September, my life has changed so much. In short: I’ve traveled to several states, went to two national conferences, applied to graduate schools, attended interview weekends, and accepted a graduate offer (here I come Cornell!). I’ve been busier than last semester since I am now on multiple projects and don’t have graduate school applications or coursework grades to worry about. In addition, this past week Brent and I were able to attend a lecture given by Sir Richard Roberts, who in 1993 was awarded the Nobel Prize for co-discovering introns. I even was able to get a poster (okay, I got my lab-mate to do it for me…) signed by him which is proudly hanging above my lab desk.

Because my time here is not just science all the time, I’ve been taking advantage of all the opportunities I can. For example, Willamette, my undergrad, was a D3 school and I went to exactly 3 sporting events but here at UGA, I’ve been to one of almost all the sporting events, including one basketball game in which Alexis and I were in a very spirited row and won a box of Coke Zeros and got a basketball player’s bobblehead! Also, now that the weather’s been nicer, I have been training for a half marathon. I told my lab that if I got into a graduate school, I would run a half marathon with them before I leave and they will not let me forget about the promise I made months ago, so we’ll see how that goes.

With the Georgia bugs slowly starting to come back and the cars covered with pine pollen, this signals that my time with PREP is almost done, a year that has been one huge rollercoaster. But within the past three months, I’ve watched the dreams of the PREP@UGA scholars come true with my own included. While my journey has been a rollercoaster, I’ve reflected on my time here and have realized that I would not change any aspect of my PREP experience because this year has taught me the extent of my strength, it has taught me how to grow into the best scientist I can be, and it’s given me the best support system I could ask for. I’ve gotten everything I expected coming into the program and so have my friends. As the next cohort is chosen and arrives, I only hope that they, too, find that their dreams can come true and grow beyond their wildest expectations.



February, 2016

Hi everyone!

My name is DeJuana Ford. I’ve lived in Athens, GA for almost six years, and I’ve spent the past seven months here as a PREP@UGA scholar. Though I haven’t had to adjust to a new city, the past few months have still been filled with a variety of eye-opening, exciting, and wonderfully challenging experiences for me!

One of my most valuable experiences as a PREP@UGA scholar has been the mock interview process. During mock interviews, each PREP scholar has the opportunity to participate in simulated graduate school admission interviews with UGA faculty members. Being a somewhat shy person, I initially looked forward to the process as an opportunity to practice appearing comfortable while providing “correct” answers to questions similar to the ones that might be asked in actual interviews.

PREP@UGA scholar, DeJuana Ford

PREP@UGA scholar, DeJuana Ford

My perspective on the process shifted significantly during my mock interview with Dr. Jessica Kissinger, when I realized that the exercise carried greater benefits than simply being a “practice round”.  I was prepared to recite my research experiences, career goals, and reasons for seeking graduate study, but Dr. Kissinger wanted me to think. Her interview questions and our subsequent discussion drove me to consider connections between my experiences, my passions, and my career goals. Her thought-provoking questions also made the interview feel more like a conversation, making me much more comfortable throughout the interview.

Following my meeting with Dr. Kissinger, I adopted a more proactive approach for the remaining mock interviews. Instead of reciting bulleted mental lists of my research experiences, goals, and attributes, I used each of the interviewers’ questions to highlight my best personal qualities and my most impactful research experiences. This strategy was especially useful, because regardless of the question asked, I was usually able to shift the conversation to something positive or to a project that I really enjoyed. Having multiple mock interviews with different faculty members gave me the opportunity to practice focusing on my strengths in spite of diverse questions and interview styles. Ultimately, I ended up actually being more comfortable in the mock interviews as opposed to just seeming more confident.

Following the mock interviews, I feel more prepared for graduate school interviews, and I am extremely grateful to be a PREP@UGA scholar!

Stay tuned for more posts!

Until next time,


December, 2015


I am Nicole Williams from Atlanta, GA. I do apologize for being a little timely with this blog post. We have a joke running around that I am always the late one. But honestly, the month of November has been pretty busy. From attending a conference, to getting graduate school applications completed and submitted, to Thanksgiving break and preparing for lab presentations all while working on research projects. Busy, busy, busy.


2015 ABRCMS in Seattle

I’m finally here to share with you all our experience at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students or ABRCMS. This year the conference was held in rainy Seattle, WA from November 11th to the 14th at the Washington State Convention Center.

After checking in our hotels we were able to relax for just a few minutes before walking over to the convention center to register. Registration was fairly easy and quick despite how many registrants were there. Prior to arriving, ABRCMS sent out an email with a QR code so with your smart phone you could use the scanner to scan your code and your information popped up on the screen, press print and you were on your way. We also received a nice ABRCMS bag that had a conference schedule inside along with an umbrella…we were in rainy Seattle, after all.

Nicole_ABRCMSThe opening reception dinner was really nice. We all decided to sit together for this first night. Later that night, we PREP Scholars had to attend a PREP mixer where we met other conference attendees who were also in PREP programs in the US. At this mixer we were given a card where we had to talk to and meet as many people as possible and take down their information; name, current school, research interest and email address all for the purpose of networking. This was the major theme of the entire conference; Networking.

The next few days, the conference followed a pretty similar schedule where we had breakfast, then broke out for various sessions. There were various professional development sessions we all attended throughout the day. I attended one session were there was a panel of speakers talking about graduate opportunities in public and global health research. This was interesting to me as I am thinking of going into the public health sector after I obtain my PhD. I also attended another very interesting session on building your brand. I am a fairly heavy user of many social media sites and in this session you get to really understand how important it is to be careful of how you are presenting yourself on these platforms. Also, during lunch and dinner throughout the remainder of the conference, the tables were color-coded according to discipline and we were to sit at a table that had the color of our discipline regardless of who was sitting there. This was another networking opportunity, which, as I mentioned before, was very important.

PREP@UGA scholars at ABRCMS Clockwise: Ivelisse Resto, Nicole Williams, Brent Allman and Cybelle Tabilas

PREP@UGA scholars at ABRCMS Clockwise: Ivelisse Resto, Nicole Williams, Brent Allman and Cybelle Tabilas

The exhibit halls opened up also and this is where we were able to meet with representatives from various graduate programs, some we’ve already had in our sites and some we hadn’t even considered. I made it a point to talk to all the schools I was interested in. There was only one school I am considering that wasn’t in attendance at the conference. Our badges had a QR code on them and, whenever we went to a booth, the representative was able to scan our badge and take down our information. Don’t you just love technology?

One good thing about speaking to the schools is you’re able to get more information than just on the website and you’re able to really get an understanding as to what type of student they accept and what it is the schools consider when making a decision. I’ll be honest to say that overall I feel that I am average in terms of GPA and GRE, but it was said to me, by more than one school, that they take a holistic approach when reviewing applications. They not only look at scores, but your letters of recommendation and personal statement carries a lot in your favor. My confidence in applying to my schools definitely increased and I even decided to apply to a school I originally didn’t consider mainly because I thought it would be a waste due to my “average” status. Another good thing is for most schools they offered application fee waivers because you were a conference attendee. With applications fees ranging from $50-$80 and having multiple, this was a good thing.

Overall, It was a really great experience being able to attend this conference. I took away with me so much from contacts to continue networking with to ideas for research and just an increased awareness of self. Being at a conference targeted towards minorities (and other underrepresented categories) it was such an eye opener to see black women in positions I aspire to be in. It gives me hope that I too can get there as long as I keep pushing forward.

Of course, once we got back from the conference, we all began to hustle to get working on our early December deadlines for applications. I’m sure you will read all about the application process in the next blog post.

Until next time,


November 2, 2015

Hi guys,

This is Michael Mills, a PREP@UGA scholar. I have definitely been busy this semester. Apart from having to prepare for classes and working in the lab, I had been working on my application for the 2016 NSF Fellowship. I’m very glad to note that I was able to complete and submit the application while balancing all the other work a PREP student does.

I graduated from the University of Georgia so I suppose I have been a Georgia Bulldawg for 4 to 5 years now. I don’t know if I’ll become a Double Dawg though; a Double Dawg is one who graduates an as an undergraduate and graduate student from the University of Georgia. I guess this is a good segue way to graduate school applications. I’m almost there; I have ten schools on my list and I’m currently filling the applications. Ten schools seems like a lot of application fees but it is better than the 16 schools I had a month or two ago. A lot of schools also give fee waivers to PREP students, if asked. In fact, one or two schools on my list do not ask for application fees. You never know what you’ll find until you really look through those graduate school websites.

I currently work in Dr. Vincent Starai’s microbiology-focused lab. It’s been fun; no really, it HAS been fun. I have enjoyed it so much that I’m now pursuing a Microbiology PhD in graduate school. I’ve learned a lot and I’m now trying to balance 3 different mini-projects that have come about because of the results of some of my earlier work. Using the yeast platform as a simple eukaryotic cell, my project involves studying the hypothesized role of the Wolbachia bacteria effector protein Wbm0076 in eukaryotic actin rearrangements.

I’m really grateful to PREP@UGA and Dr. Starai for giving me the chance to see what I can accomplish in a research lab.

Athens is definitely fun. Usually on Fridays I go to the Intramural fields and play some pick-up soccer. There are some amazing and unique restaurants here, as well. There are a few sporting events that anyone could attend for free including the Women’s volleyball and soccer games.

Well, that’s all I have for now; watch out for Nicole’s blog next week.

Michael Mills

October 22, 2015

Hello everyone,

My name is Alexis Thomas and I am from Rockville, Indiana.  I realize that it has been a little longer than a week, but I have been doing some traveling and I wanted to include my experiences in my post.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to go visit the biomedical science umbrella programs at both University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan.  These are two opportunities that I do not believe I would have even known existed if it wasn’t for PREP@UGA.  While visiting both these schools I was able to speak with professors who loved the idea that, as PREP scholars, we do full-time research.  I was able to gain information on their programs, as well as, general application information.  In meetings with faculty, I had the opportunity to describe my research and goals.  It was great practice for interviews.  I went with other PREP scholars from different institutions as well as seniors who are getting ready to apply.  I was able to make new friends and develop relationships with professors in the field I am interested in.

A unique part of the PREP@ UGA program that I am finishing up are the YouTube videos Click here to see videos. They are like a video version of a personal statement.  I completed my voiceover recording this week, which is kind of a strange, but fun experience.


Alexis Thomas with Dr. Stephen Trent

I work in Dr. Stephen Trent’s lab with Dr. Carmen Herrera.  I am genetically manipulating E.coli, to alter its outermebrane structure.  I spend a large portion of my day in the lab, which, I am not going to lie, was an adjustment from undergrad, and one that I struggled with; the pace was just so drastically different.  I am happy that through PREP I am able to adapt and make adjustments, so that I may be highly productive from day one in graduate school.


Hayride fun at the Oconee Fall Festival with friends

Although I spend a lot of time in lab and doing grad school application stuff, there is still lots of fun to be had in Athens.  Fall has always been my favorite season, which coming from Indiana, I assumed there wouldn’t be as much to do and it wouldn’t be as beautiful here, but I was wrong.  I recently went to a fall festival and hayride.  There are also plans in the works to visit a corn maze and decorate pumpkins. Also, there is a zombie haunted cornfield I plan on attending and, rumor has it, on Halloween there is an awesome costume parade downtown.  So, I am looking forward to the next few weeks.

Be on the lookout for Nicole’s post next week

Until next time,

Alexis Thomas

September 25, 2015

Hello World,

I am Brent Allman and I am a PREP@UGA scholar. Three months is the longest I have ever spent away from my hometown of San Diego, CA. I also attended college there at the University of San Diego. Although I did a summer research experience in Colorado and a brief study abroad in London, Athens has probably been the most drastic change from southern California!

I saw PREP as an opportunity to gain great research experience, but also great personal experience. I had lived on campus for all four years, spending three of those years as a resident assistant. In a way, I had never felt the discomfort of living away from home.

Brent Allman2

Brent enjoying an ice cream cookie sandwich from Insomnia Cookies (photo credit to Cybelle Tabilas).

Living in Athens has definitely provided that experience! I live off campus with three of the other scholars in a town I committed to spending a year in, sight unseen. Luckily I have been able too find comforts analogous to what I would find in San Diego. One of these analogs includes Mama’s Boy, which is a great brunch place- try the biscuits with their homemade jam. Another is Insomnia Cookies satiating my huge sweet tooth. I have also made some friends through the LGBT Resource Center on campus.

This year I am lucky to have two faculty mentors: Dr. Jessica Kissinger and Dr. Juan Gutierrez. We are creating a mathematical model to describe the population structure of Toxoplasma gondii­. I am learning useful skills in both wet lab and dry lab settings.

I can’t wait for my next post where I will be able to talk about a conference or two. SACNAS and ABRCMS, here I come!

Make sure to come back in the next week for Alexis’ post!

Bye for now,

Brent Allman

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Three months. Three months can either be an eternity or it can go by in a flash. Three months was an eternity from when I submitted my application to when I got accepted into PREP but three months seemed transient from when the program first started in July to now.

So hi, my name is Cybelle and I’m a PREP@UGA scholar. When we first arrived on campus three months ago, Athens seemed like a quaint, sleepy little town but now it’s filled with 20,000+ more people, the crowds have returned, and every other Saturday, the most dedicated fans flood campus to watch the beloved Dawgs play between the hedges in the sacred Sanford Stadium. These past three months have been surreal and each week marks a new adventure for me: whether it be the new set of ILS (integrated life sciences) lab rotation students coming in, learning a new lab technique, having lunch with the famed Dr. Irv Weissman, attending my first SEC football game, or having chik-fil-a for the very first time—it’s all been such an amazing experience!

(Fun fact: there are only two seasons in an SEC town, football season and not football season. Dawgs on top!)

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Cybelle ringing the UGA Victory Bell

In late July, we all got placed in our labs and in true bulldawg fashion, Brent and I rang the Victory Bell to celebrate our placements into our lab and mark the start of our year long journey towards graduate school. I am spending the year in Dr. Nancy Manley’s lab under the mentorship of Dr. Julie Gordon where I will primarily be investigating the role of the Notch signaling pathway in the phenotypic expression of the thymus during various fetal and post-natal stages in mice. In addition to working a 9-5 research job, all the scholars are taking the three main classes all first year ILS students are required to take which gives us both the opportunity to make friends with the graduate students as well as experience first hand what grad life really entails. Which, personally, I think is the most alluring aspect of the program.

Make sure to come back in the next week for Brent’s post!

See you all next time,