I gravitate toward thinking that requires me to draw on work and knowledge from across disciplines, particularly across scientific disciplines. It is not surprising, then, that after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago with a double-major degree in mathematics (with honors) and chemistry, I took my current two-year research fellowship at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, one of the National Institutes of Health. My work focuses on the development of a cell culture platform that will allow scientists to expose cancer cells grown in vitro to oxygen gradients similar to what the cells would experience in the human body. This allows researchers to conduct more accurate preclinical studies on cancer drug resistance. (You can learn more about the lab where Davi works here.) Within the next two years, I plan on applying to Ph.D. programs in biophysics or biomedical engineering. These areas of study suit my broad interests and allow me to think about problems from different angles; a style of thinking I resonate with. It’s interesting to consider the role WMS has played in my life and career choices so far.
I’ve always been an intensely academic person, and wasn’t always especially outdoorsy, so to many it seemed like an unlikely choice to transfer after my freshman year from my large public high school, with multiple magnet programs and a huge array of course offerings, to a small school in the woods. But as a stubborn high school student growing increasingly jaded by large classes and cookie-cutter curricula, what I really needed was the intimacy and flexibility of a place like White Mountain to thrive personally and academically.
I went from having my teachers mispronounce my name to having every teacher know it—even ones I’d never had a class with. Teachers I did have classes with knew me well enough to encourage me to pursue my academic interests where I excelled. For example, if my WMS calculus teacher ever sensed I was bored, he would assign some interesting math topic for me to look up on my own. Even more importantly, though, my teachers knew me well enough to push me to try (and sometimes fail) in areas where I was definitely untalented (such as whitewater kayaking). Whereas before I had never particularly thought of myself as a leader, I suddenly found myself excited to be in positions of responsibility through dorm proctoring or kitchen crew—or even being allowed to teach some lessons in a few biology and math classes. And while I felt lost and anonymous at my old school, at White Mountain I was and still am a part of a genuine community.
As I contemplate exactly what direction I want my scientific and academic career to take, I know that teaching will have to be a piece of it, in large part because I know from my White Mountain experience how life-changing it can be to have educators who care deeply about teaching and about students.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of Davi da Silva and not those of not those of the NIH or NIBIB.