Alumni Profile: Colleen Stoyas

Colleen Stoyas on the Beach

Graduated: May 2011

Favorite IB class and why: I loved my Ecology and Evolution class and the field work it entailed, my Organismal Biology class because of its labs, Coral Reef Ecology and its mandatory lab in Belize, Genes and Behavior, and so many others. I think the class I find myself continually applying to my every day “life” choices is Ecology and Human Health, taught by Dr. Brian Allan. This course investigates human health issues from an ecological perspective and regularly influences my perception of infectious disease outbreaks, grocery purchases, choice of where within a city or area to live (did you know lyme disease most commonly occurs in communities of moderate population size and not in rural areas?), and more.

Favorite extra curricular activities (undergraduate research, clubs, etc) and why: My favorite activity was definitely my undergraduate research on yeast genetics in the Freeman Lab (dept of MCB), and I submitted a distinction project prior to graduation. Outside of the lab I was in a co-ed Honor Fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, that allowed me to make a great group of friends outside of my science courses and participate in service projects in the Champaign-Urbana community.

Why you chose IB: I chose IB over other Life Sciences majors because of the emphasis on analytical thinking and problem solving. In IB courses you are required to memorize less facts and instead given a set of information and asked to apply the principles you learned to answer questions on that information. This type of learning is extremely engaging and affected not only my studies, but how I approach any information given to me in life. I entered Illinois generally interested in science and was told growing up that I would make a good physician. While taking IB150, I realized that my interest in medicine had been in the discovery portion all along, and not in actually treating patients.

Colleen Stoyas with turtle

How you feel IB helped prepare you for your career: As I mentioned above, IB focuses on teaching analytical thinking and problem solving skills. I once had a project where I was asked to pick a plant on campus, and I had to email my professor a paragraph on that plant every week. Sometimes it seems hard to find a difference in a dormant magnolia tree from week-to-week in January and February, but “no change” was unacceptable. By the end of that semester I was at that tree every single day noticing so many differing events in its immobile life. IB taught me to be observant, patient, and responsive to my environment in addition to the value the knowledge the coursework provided me. These skills have been invaluable in my current career as a PhD student in Biomedical Sciences.

What you’re up to now and what you like about it: I am currently starting my third year as a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of California, San Diego. I am a member of the La Spada Laboratory, a large and diverse environment that studies the genetics of inherited neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. My favorite part of my schooling/job is engaging with leaders in the neurodegeneration field and working at the cutting-edge of scientific discovery.