Jillissa Molnari, M.S.B.S.’15, knew since she was a teenager that she wanted to work in forensics. A visit to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Crime Lab as a freshman at Drake University solidified her goal. Now, the Des Moines University Master of Science in Biomedical Science alumna works in that very same DCI lab, investigating OWIs, traffic deaths and homicides with the skills she honed at DMU.
“If you want to go into any kind of forensic science, an advanced degree is going to help you,” Molnari told a group of current students gathered for the first ever MSBS alumni mixer.
Faculty Sarah Clayton, Ph.D., and program director Suzanne Bohlson, Ph.D., organized the event, where first and second year MSBS students had a chance to ask questions of alumni.
“We wanted to give the MSBS students a survey of what was available and develop their career trajectory while still in grad school,” Clayton said.
A large percentage of MSBS alumni go on to pursue careers in clinical medicine or transition to Ph.D. programs, but three of the alumni gathered, including Molnari, shared how the skills they learned in the labs at DMU directly translated to their work in industry.
Emily Smith, M.S.B.S.’16, parlayed her experience at DMU into a career at Viracor Eurofins in Kansas City, where she works to develop tests that clinics can order for transplant patients. Smith was pre-med in undergrad at Grand View University, but realized she might be too emotionally attached to patients to work as a clinician and opted for a research route through the MSBS program.
“This program really did help me with learning all of the techniques (in the lab) and having the confidence to go in and communicate with biopharmaceutical companies,” Smith said. “I have to present all of the time at work.”
Sean O’Conner, M.S.B.S.’15 is another alum who thought he was on track to become a physician but found his passion for research and a career as a scientist at Boehringer Ingelheim through the MSBS program.
“For me, the biggest thing was realizing how much I enjoyed the research and taking on a thesis and working on it from beginning to end,” O’Conner said. “I felt very prepared after going through Des Moines University. (My supervisor) could hand me a protocol and let me figure it out.”
The alumni and students gathered bonded over a mutual understanding of the rigors of lab life.
“We’re not just learning about the technique,” said Elizabeth Deforest, M.S.B.S. ’21. “We learn the background and the ‘Why?’ behind the research. It’s in-depth.”