March 2, 2016

By Simon Goodacre | Graduate Schools of Arts and Sciences

When Felipe Baena Garcia enrolled at Brandeis, he was a recent graduate from Brazil who did not have a great command of English. “I was very intimidated,” he says. “When I first started, I assumed that the American students would be more advanced than me.” Felipe studied Biology as an undergraduate. He is sponsored by the Brazilian government in partnership with the Institute of International Education (IIE). IIE suggested three American universities to Felipe, including Brandeis.

The first class was the Biotech Project Lab. “It is still one of the toughest courses I have taken at Brandeis,” he says. “It was very intimidating at first, but the students rallied together. We got very tight after that experience.” Now Felipe is living with two students from the program, and he works with another at his job. More importantly, the experience helped him gain confidence in his abilities. “When I found out that I was getting the same, or even better, grades as everyone else, I realized that I really have a lot of potential.”

Felipe credits the Brandeis faculty for giving him the tools to succeed. “The education is different at Brandeis because I can engage more with professors,” he says. “They are not giving knowledge; we are discussing knowledge. I feel like they really know me. Even in the larger classes like Biochemistry, they know every student and provide feedback directly.”

Biotech is a good fit for Felipe because he wants to apply the work he is performing in the lab. The internship requirement enabled him to test his abilities working in a commercial lab. “It was hard to find an internship as an international student, but with some help from Neil Simister, I found one at X-Chem,” he says. “Some previous Brandeis students have worked at there in the past, so they knew we had quality candidates.”

X-Chem is mostly focused on drug discovery. Felipe works on protein assays using small molecules, combining biology and chemistry to develop new therapies. “It was hard in the beginning, but I could handle it because of the confidence I had from the labs at Brandeis.” He also acquired the tools he needed to work in an American company from courses at the International Business School (IBS). “I took Organizational Behavior and Global Dexterity. Neil recommended these classes to me because he realized that knowing how to interact in an American company would be important for my success.” Felipe has been hired for two semesters following his original summer internship.

After graduation, Felipe plans to return to Brazil, where he may pursue a career in a pharmaceutical company. He is considering bigger plans though. “Who knows? If I have a really good idea, now I have the tools to start my own company,” he says. Felipe has taken several courses in entrepreneurship during his time at Brandeis. “There are many problems in Brazil like Zika and other tropical diseases. It would be amazing to combat those diseases and do something for my country.”

The Biotech program has been eye opening for Felipe. “As an international student, I really appreciate the multicultural aspect of this program. I am working with Asians and Middle Eastern people as well as Americans. That is important as so much of this industry is international now.” With the scientific background he has developed combined with his newly acquired business acumen, Felipe feels ready for a career in medical science. “This experience has made me realize that I am capable of doing anything I want to in this field.”