By the end of her sophomore year of college, Sarel Loewus ’16 had accomplished something impressive: her research on cocrystal formation in solid-state NMR, conducted with Professor Manish Mehta, was published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. The same year, she was awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. As a senior, she switched mentors and worked with Professor Lisa Ryno to complete an honors thesis on E. coli biofilms and the role specific transcription factors play in biofilm formation.
Currently, Loewus is pursuing a PhD in biochemistry, studying at the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Graduate Program at University of Pittsburgh. She chose this program with the specific intention of moving away from the familiar, and continuing to broaden her knowledge of the field. “My current PhD work, and likely the work I will do for my PhD thesis, doesn’t really relate to any research that I’ve done before,” says Loewus. “A large part of why I chose to get my PhD at Pittsburgh was because I wanted the opportunity to explore new, unfamiliar types of research with biomedical relevance.”
At Oberlin, Loweus’ success wasn’t just confined to the lab. In addition to majoring in biochemistry, Loweus ran for the women’s track and cross country teams, and served as captain of both programs her senior year. Although she found balancing the time commitment between academics and athletics to be challenging at times, she now credits her years on the teams as crucial to her ability to thrive at Oberlin. “Running on the team gave me a release and break from the often stressful academic environment at Oberlin, an amazing support network and lifelong friends, and it made me happy,” she says. “It also taught me about the importance of prioritization, which is definitely a skill I will continue to use moving forward.”
Loewus’ PhD program is distinct in that it allows candidates to work in several different departments within the School of Medicine during the course of their studies. After completing three rotations in her first year, Loewus will choose a lab, and thus a department, in which to work on her thesis. She is currently finishing her rotation at the Magee Women’s Research Institute in Dr. Yoel Sadovsky’s lab, which primarily studies the human placenta. Says Loewus, “A large reason why I chose to pursue my PhD at University of Pittsburgh is because of the medical center here. I am really interested in doing medically relevant research, and UPMC fosters a lot of interaction between researchers and clinicians, which I think is really important.”
Loewus notes that transitioning from a liberal arts college to a graduate university has been tricky, but she felt uniquely prepared for the challenge. “I think that I received a really great education as a biochem major at Oberlin,” she says. “Oberlin’s chemistry department is not only filled with great teachers and mentors, but it also has the resources to allow students to pursue independent research, which is really important.”
Though she initially hoped to become a professor at a major research university, Loewus says she is open to simply see where her research takes her. “Being in Pittsburgh has opened up my eyes to other career paths for PhDs that are becoming more and more appealing such as industry, scientific writing, and consulting,” she says. “I’m hoping that my time pursuing a PhD will give me an idea of whether a career in academia is the right path for me.”