Daniel Akuma ’14 is reasonably sure he wants to go to medical school at some point. But instead of applying for admission right after graduation, he opted to work in a laboratory for a couple of years first. In July, Akuma will move to Baltimore to take a research assistant position at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development.
“It’s an opportunity to expand my research experience,” said the neuroscience major from Abakaliki, Nigeria, who noted that it’s a common career track for those going to graduate school. “You get a feel for a full-time research job first before plunging into whatever field you want to go into.” He believes the position will ultimately strengthen his medical school applications as well.
At the Lieber Institute, Akuma will work with the group that studies the molecular protein in genes that makes people susceptible to schizophrenia and develops and tests drugs to help alleviate the symptoms of the disease. “What really interested me so much is the fact that I’m going to see the end result of this,” he said.
Landing the job at the Institute was a story of Kenyon connections. When Greg Carr ’04, an investigator in the Drug and Discovery Division at the Institute was looking for research assistants, he reached out to his former instructor, Hewlett McFarlane, professor of neuroscience, for recommendations. McFarlane recommended Akuma.
“Daniel is really smart intellectually. He knows his stuff,” McFarlane said. But equally as important was his personality. “A lab is a team. You need reliable, good people.”
Carr saw the same qualities in Akuma. “He had the good breadth of experience we were looking for,” said Carr. “When I talked with him, he was a mature, rising senior compared to where I was at the same point.”
The Institute is located on the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Hospital campus and operates in collaboration with the university – another selling point to Akuma. “I might stay longer. You never know,” he said. “But the goal right now is to go to medical school right after two years with them.”
McFarlane sees this as an excellent opportunity for Akuma, whatever trajectory his career takes. “The skills he’ll learn will translate to a medical career,” he said. “It requires a kind of discipline and clarity in thinking. Whether he becomes a lab scientist or an MD or works in medical policy, the skills he’ll pick up will translate very well.”