Finding Focus, Exploring Opportunities, Discovering New Worlds

July 26, 2022

When Alyssa Hyndman ’20 came to Grinnell as a first-year student from Clarksville, Indiana, she brought with her a budding interest in biology that she thought might lead to a major — and maybe even a career. With her first intro to biology course as a Grinnellian, she knew this was the case.

“My intro course was on genetics, and I fell in love with the complexity of the subject and the inquisitive nature of the major,” she recalls. “I had never done any research or lab work prior to that and realized my potential for growth as a biology major.”

With her major identified, Hyndman began to focus in on specific areas of interest that would help her achieve the goal of entering medical school and working as a physician. With assistance from her advisers and professors in the biology department, Hyndman chose courses and pursued experiences both in and out of the classroom that would help strengthen her medical school application when the time came.

“The biology department was full of knowledgeable and kind faculty and staff that were always available to help me identify and pursue my interests and career goals,” Hyndman says. “My adviser, Vida Praitis, helped me figure out what classes I needed to take, helped me identify experiences I could pursue, and even had some ideas for study abroad programs that would enhance my interests and help in my career trajectory.”

Hyndman participated in an alumni externship during spring break of her second year; she stayed with a family medicine doctor (and Grinnell alum) and job-shadowed her as she interacted with patients in different settings, including a clinic, hospital, and a free clinic for pregnant women in Denver.

In the summer after her second year, Hyndman conducted Mentored Advance Project (MAP) research on genetics with Professor Praitis. The complexity of genetics challenged her at times but coaching and mentorship from Praitis kept her on track.

“It was a good thing that Professor Praitis is a genius as well as a great teacher,” says Hyndman. “She helped direct me and helped me keep the right mindset about scientific research. I ended the summer with a full scientific paper and later was able to present my results at a biology faculty seminar, so it was a great experience.”

In her third year, Hyndman studied abroad during the fall semester in Copenhagen, Denmark. She lived with a host family and participated in a program that had a medical practice and policy core course.

“I had never left the country before and, coming from a low-income family, this was an experience I had never even dreamed of,” she says. “I was taught by doctors and got to experience what the health care system was like in multiple European countries. It opened my eyes to the differences in cultures and priorities across the world and opened up room for discussion about ways we could improve the U.S. health care system.”

On top of these unique opportunities, Hyndman found the courses in biology, and those related to her concentration in neuroscience, also helped her develop essential critical thinking skills as well as the desire to question things more thoroughly.

“With each course, I was applying concepts I had learned to answer difficult questions rather than memorizing and regurgitating facts,” she says. “The knowledge, problem-solving skills, and mentorship through the biology department prepared me well for a career in medicine.”

Hyndman is currently living in Chicago and working as a medical assistant. She will attend Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the fall of 2022.

Learn more about studying biology at Grinnell

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