Image of Alma Hernandez Headshot

May 26, 2022

Sydney Adams | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Alma Castillo Hernandez, a first year Biotechnology MS student, has always been interested in health and the life sciences. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, she worked at Boston Children’s Hospital and ran clinical operations with the Alliance Foundation. These experiences showed her that the biotechnology industry provides opportunities to go beyond bench science and working in the lab. She also discovered that scientists today, “need those business-based skills as much as we need the scientific knowledge,” which is why she chose to join Brandeis’ master’s program in Biotechnology.

Castillo Hernandez says she chose Brandeis for its connection to a variety of life science and health organizations in Boston’s burgeoning biotechnology sector. Additionally, she appreciated the fact that Brandeis’ programs have a “smaller student to teacher ratio, where I could build relationships with my professors and peers. I found this balance and academic program at Brandeis that I could not find in other bigger universities of the area.” Castillo Hernandez was awarded the DEIS Scholarship, which she says has given her opportunities that she had not had access to before. “I come from a lower socioeconomic status,” she says. “I worked two jobs in my undergrad to pay for school, and I am so happy I do not have to do that now.” 

Some of the professors that have assisted Castillo Hernandez in her academic journey include Dr. ​​Neil Simister, director of the Professional Science Master's Program in Biotechnology. Castillo Hernandez says Dr. Simister, “has supported my knowledge but also helped me with letters of rec or advice on internships and future career options.” In addition, Castillo Hernandez points to Professor Vincent Sutera who, she says, helped her “gain back some confidence in the lab my first semester.”

Castillo Hernandez also gives credit to the GSAS Professional Development team for helping with her internship search. Marika McCann helped her find a role at the French Consulate of Boston in the Office of Science and Technology. Because of this internship, Castillo Hernandez says, “I have gained a bigger network of people in the industry and received some feedback about possible next steps in my career.” Working in this role has given Castillo Hernandez a wider perspective of the “intersection of business, science, and policy.” 

Castillo Hernandez’s advice to those interested in pursuing a degree from Brandeis’ Biotechnology program is, “If you have an interest in a field, feel free to discover all of the ways you can be a part of it. I came into sciences and health thinking I would go to medical school and become an ER doctor, but I found that supporting the research project and making it available to communities that are underserved like my own is where I want to thrive. Whether it is at a community level or an international level, I am learning how to extend access. I am still a woman of color in STEM. Scientists can wear a lab coat or a business suit, but ultimately we want to progress good ideas to help people in need. The field is growing and we need people who can really blend both.”