Alicia Socuy: JA Mentor Extraordinaire

Dec. 14, 2016

Alicia Socuy: JA Mentor Extraordinaire

We recently caught up with Junior Academy mentor Alicia Soucy who is currently pursuing her PhD at Albany Medical School with a focus on Immunology and Microbial Disease. Alicia has been a part of the Junior Academy for the last two challenge cycles. We spoke to Alicia about her mentoring experience with JA as well as her interest in science.

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How did you first get interested in science?

My dad and two teachers really pushed my interests. My dad always used to tell me, "If you do well in math and science, you'll be golden for the rest of your life." So I studied hard in high school, mainly in math and science. My high school chemistry teacher, Mary Hyde, was always so unique, boisterous, and excited about learning.

Mrs. Hyde's excitement rubbed off on me and got me interested in the sciences. When I got to college, I had this amazing professor, Dr.George Bazinet. He honestly is the main reason why I am here today. He was tough, but he truly wanted his students to succeed. I took an "Emerging Infectious Diseases" class with him, and that's what got me interested in microbiology. When it came time to graduate, he pushed me into grad school. He told me how much potential he saw in me, and told me to go straight for my PhD, so I did.

What has your experience been like as a mentor in The Junior Academy?

Last session I served as an expert, of sorts. I didn't have a team, so I just surfed the projects pool and gave my two cents to teams. All-in-all, the teams I interacted with were amazing, hard-working, enthusiastic, and intelligent.

They took what I said with a grain of salt (as they should), and integrated my ideas with their own to develop these awesome projects. This session, I've been pretty fortunate to have been given a very ambitious group. The students work very well as a team. They're smart, patient, and determined! They've developed this awesome, inexpensive test to quickly test various micronutrient levels in the human body. I feel like I barely helped them at all; they developed the idea, weighed the pros and cons of various different test they could run, and eventually came up with a great product. They really did an amazing job this round, and all I can say is that I'm impressed. I can't wait to work with more students in the future!

What is one your favorite memories from taking part in JA?

My favorite part about JA is working with people all over the world. Sure, it's a hassle to get people together to have a video chat, but at the same time it's awesome! I feel like a big-wig, telling people, "Oh yeah, I just have a video call with people in Singapore tomorrow. No big deal!"

I've learned a lot about different cultures, and schooling all over the world. It's also kind of impressive that science has become a universal language. We didn't have to overcome any barriers to work with one another; everyone does the research, shares their findings, and works as a team. It's humbling to be part of such a community. That is my favorite part: the large, supportive community. Especially now, since science is very competitive with researcher fighting for grant money.

What are some projects you are currently working on?

My team and I are working within the Junior Academy on "Detecting Micronutrient Deficiencies in Third-World Countries". They've worked very hard to develop a simple test strip to test blood (or saliva) for various micronutrients like iron, vitamin D, iodine, etc. The test is similar to a blood sugar test, in that the person would prick themselves, and then add the blood to a test strip. The test strip is then fashioned like an ELISA pregnancy test, and nutrients in the sample would bind antibodies. Only if there are enough nutrients in the blood would you see a reaction on the test strip.

Right now I am studying the pulmonary progression of the bacterium, Francisella tularensis. My project is aiming to elucidate immune differences between two commonly used mouse strains, BALB/c and C57Bl/6 mice. Following vaccination with a less harmful strain of F. tularensis, BALB/c mice can be protected against the highly deadly strains of F. tularensis, yet C57Bl/6 mice cannot be protected. Identifying differences can allow for the development of vaccines to target such responses and therapeutics to treat patients already infected with the bacteria.