Alumni Spotlight

Isabel Bray Newsome

NewsomeTUNL REU Class of 2015
Undergraduate Institution: Clarkson University
Current Position: 3rd Year Graduate Student at UNC-Chapel Hill in Biomedical Engineering

What are you currently doing?

I’m currently in the third year of a PhD program in biomedical engineering at UNC in Chapel Hill, NC. My lab uses contrast-enhanced ultrasound for imaging and therapy. My thesis focuses on a 3D microvascular contrast ultrasound imaging technique, and the projects I’m working on include characterization of novel dual-frequency ultrasound transducers and application of microvascular imaging for the assessment of breast cancer.

How did participating in the TUNL REU Program influence your career path?

The TUNL REU had a huge impact on my career path. Surprisingly, I discovered that nuclear physics wasn’t the field for me. Though I really enjoyed my research project and got along very well with my mentors, I felt like the greater impact of the work was lacking.

As part of the REU, we visited the Physics departments of the three big research schools in the Triangle – Duke, UNC, and NCSU – and on these visits, I learned that there were still so many options out there for me. One of these visits led me to discover the perfect field and program for me – biomedical engineering at UNC. I owe the fact that I’m now pursuing my PhD at UNC to the TUNL REU.

Even though I didn’t stay in the field of nuclear physics, the REU allowed me to foster my love for experimental research, find the right field for my career, and develop so many skills in research and professional development. 

What is one of your favorite memories from the REU program?

The best memories I have are the connections I made with the rest of my cohort! It was super cool to get to meet other students who shared my interest in physics but were at the same time incredibly diverse. Our group had a great time, from pesto parties to beach trips, and some of us have remained friends over the years!

Do you have any advice for undergraduates thinking about a research career?

The best advice I can give is to put yourself out there. Whether it’s an internship, co-op, research at your home institution or an intensive program elsewhere, like the TUNL REU, just do it. You won’t know exactly what it is you want to do until you try, and it’s much better to find out that you DON’T like something before you dedicate the rest of your life to it.

It can be hard and scary to put yourself out there, especially as a young researcher or student, but I hope you’ll come to find that the majority of faculty, postdocs, and older grad students (like your TAs) are more than happy to talk to you. If you need to talk about career paths, different scientific fields, academia vs industry, choosing a grad school, or whatever – we want to help! Plus, some of the people you reach out to can become your mentors, advocates, and even friends – all invaluable to have as resources as you figure out your next steps.