Posted: February 28, 2022

With a dream of working in virology and infectious disease, with a taste of parasitology through schistosomiasis, Darnella Cole found herself entering a Ph.D. program at Penn State. She has a warm, vibrant personality and a way of speaking that makes it clear that she is passionate about this program and her future in science. Originally from a small university in Alabama, Cole recalled being shocked by all the options that she had here at Penn State University. Despite all these options, she noted the importance of having a general sense of what you want to achieve with the pathobiology program. This is due to the specialization of the program. As a first-year grad student, Cole remarked upon the welcoming and helpful nature of the entire department, especially the older grad students. “Kudos to the grad students. They are extremely helpful to incoming students—I mean, we know nothing!” Cole gushed. She spoke of her own initial concerns in the program, including registering for classes, and how older students had been incredibly helpful in her journey thus far. Even with their help, Cole recalled the initial challenges she faced in the program. Most importantly, the move from Alabama to Pennsylvania was a huge adjustment. From demographics, to culture, to weather, Cole found it difficult to adjust at first. Coupled with the fact that she had been out of school for a little, she found herself needing to find ways to adjust to her new environments. Fortunately, she managed to do exactly that. What she learned from this experience and hopes to express to other new grad students is that patience is key. It is okay that things are not easy right away, but so long as you have patience, they will work out okay in the end. In the end, Cole noted how the first year of grad school is filled with excitement and change. Students can expect to take courses in their first and second semesters as they consider which lab they may be interested in joining. Typically, first-year grad students have the opportunity to complete three lab rotations of five weeks each during the fall semester. After this is complete, they then select the lab they intend to spend the rest of their program in.