One Year OutRicha Gautam ’16Research Assistant at Weill-Cornell Medicine
Even before she enrolled at Vassar five years ago, Richa Gautam ’16 knew she wanted to pursue an academic career in psychology. But rather than going straight to graduate school, Gautam is gaining valuable experience in sophisticated research techniques at Cornell University’s biomedical research unit at Weill-Cornell Medicine in New York City.
Weill-Cornell operates a medical school and a graduate school of medical sciences whose physicians and faculty are engaged in clinical care and cutting-edge research.
As a research assistant, Gautam is providing support for teams working on a variety of projects. In one study, researchers are trying to determine whether smokers who do not plan to quit would switch to less harmful e-cigarettes if given the choice. Gautam created all of the recruitment materials and consent forms for the study.
Gautam is also helping researchers gather data on the practice of pediatrics. Her duties for that study include periodic visits to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Weill-Cornell Medical Center. “I was not pre-med at Vassar, and some of the calculations for this study were quite involved,” she says. “But over time, I got good at doing them, and the study has really been satisfying.”
Gautam is part of a team that is collaborating with other researchers elsewhere in the country in gathering basic health data on more than a million people. The goal of the study, initiated by the National Institutes of Health and dubbed “All of Us,” is to develop ways to measure risk factors for a range of diseases, to find ways to empower people to monitor and improve their own health, and to create targeted drug trials and other therapies.
Gautam says her work at Weill-Cornell has been both rewarding and challenging. “They definitely throw you into the water and see how well you can juggle a lot of projects,” she says. “But I had really good training at Vassar. It prepared me for having too much work.”
For her data analysis for the smoking study, for example, Gautam had to use a brand of software called Qualtrics, which creates databases for surveys and questionnaires. “I didn’t know anything about Qualtrics, but I learned,” she says. “Databases were a weakness of mine—I used to send all my questions to an IT person, but now I can do it all myself.”
“The work I’m doing here has prepared me to look at things on my own, and even in areas where I have no experience, to figure it out.”
Gautam grew up in India and attended an international school near Mumbai for her final two years of high school. A counselor there recommended Vassar. “I was looking for a small liberal arts school with a strong psychology department,” she says. “I had taken psychology in high school and knew I wanted to do research and become a professor.”
Gautam will begin applying to graduate schools later this year and says her time at Weill-Cornell will benefit her in as she pursues advanced degrees and throughout her academic career. “The work I’m doing here has prepared me to look at things on my own, and even in areas where I have no experience, to figure it out,” she says. “And secondly, just being part of the team here has enabled me to keep abreast of what’s happening in the field, and that will be useful when I’m deciding what to do in my own research.”