In this edition of BMB's Alumni Spotlight, we feature Sydney Gaston Sanchez
Sydney came to Penn State after earning her bachelor’s of science degree in Integrative Physiology and Neurobiology. While a graduate student in the Penn State’s Forensic Science Program, she worked under the guidance of Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Forensic Science, Mitchell Holland. Her research assessed damage patterns through massively parallel sequencing (MPS) in mitochondrial DNA. Sydney also collaborated on projects involving identification of skeletal remains and testing of a whole mitochondrial genome PCR amplification kit on different population groups.
Currently, Sydney lives in Delaware and works at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory as a Forensic DNA Analyst.
Let’s chat with Sydney, talk about her experiences while at Penn State, and catch up with what she’s been up to.
What do you do at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory?
We use DNA analysis and technologies to identify the remains of missing US service members. We are divided into multiple sections. In my section, we focus on past conflicts including WWII, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war. We process and prepare bone samples to go through DNA extraction all the way through DNA analysis to gain a mitochondrial DNA profile. In some cases, bone samples are very old and/or damaged and we have to use a newer more advanced technique called Next-Generation Sequencing in order to acquire more complete and clearer data.
What was it that made you want to come to Penn State, and BMB, to pursue your education?
I interviewed for the Forensic Science Program and absolutely fell in love with it! I liked that the program was well-rounded and that even though my focus was DNA and biology, I could get exposure to many fields in forensic science.
How do you feel Penn State, and BMB, prepared you for your current position or career?
It's funny to say, but I think it prepared me almost to a T for my current job. Between my classes and research opportunities, I was able to learn the science of what I do, along with actually putting it into practice in the lab. With the connections the program has to other forensic institutions in the community, I was able to go to my current place of work and shadow scientists from the research section to then perform those same techniques successfully at Penn State.
Share at least one interesting/fun fact about yourself.
I was once caught between a barracuda and an eel in the middle of the ocean.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I enjoy reading and spending time with friends. Now that I'm not in grad school, I've had an opportunity to expand on my hobbies and my co-workers and I have taken up crocheting and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Those are two hobbies I never imagined myself doing, but now thoroughly enjoy.
Favorite “We Are Penn State” Moments.
While recounting this, I realize it doesn't sound super impactful but during my first semester at Penn State, I went to North Carolina to visit my family. We took a trip to the beach and explored the local downtown area. My dad and I were wearing Penn State gear and the cashier at an ice cream shop got really excited when she saw us, saying that her sister went to Penn State. I was really surprised to find someone with a connection to my school this far away, since that hadn't really happened a lot with my undergraduate institution. That was just the first of many of these incidents. No matter where I go, I always seem to find Penn State alumni, or people with a connection to someone at Penn State. I've even had people see me in my Penn State gear and shout from the other side of the street, "We Are!" Throughout my years and even now, I've learned that Penn State isn't just a school, it's a community. A community that extends throughout the nation and even internationally. It extends even to my daily life, with many of my co-workers being alumni themselves. Once you are a part of Penn State, you are a part of Penn State for life.
Advice from Sydney to future generations of scientists:
Take advantage of everything available to you. You have so many resources available to you know that you won't have in the future. Be sure to make the most of them and don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone!
Penn Staters Stick Together!
Our class motto was "It's okay. Everything is fine." We even had it printed on T-shirts. Penn State was not easy and while we had our fun times, we definitely also had times where we struggled and were overwhelmed, wondering how we were going to make it through. But we had each other, and we helped one another along the way, so that even when things were too much to handle, we could count on each other to keep moving. So in the end, it was okay and everything was fine, and we all made it to the end better prepared for the world out there.