Research Assistant, and Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation Fellowship

PhD in Pathobiology program

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Rebecca Villa, and I grew up in El Monte, CA. I earned a Questbridge National College Match Scholarship to attend Grinnell College for my undergraduate education where I earned a BA in Biology and a BA in Anthropology while also running for the school’s cross country and track teams. I enrolled in an undergrad-to-grad program with the University of Iowa to earn my Master of Public Health degree in Epidemiology with a Certificate in Emerging Infectious Diseases. Thereafter, I spent a year as an Association of Public Health Laboratories Infectious Disease Fellow at the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa. Here, I worked to develop an automated laboratory-developed assay for the detection of mpox using human lesion swab specimens. Now, I am a first-year PhD in Pathobiology student at the University of Washington. I am the first in my family to earn a college degree.

Why did you decide to attend the UW for graduate school?

I chose the UW because I liked that the Pathobiology program was a lab-based PhD program housed in a school of public health. This unique emphasis on global health was really important to me as I was choosing a PhD program because I wanted to be able to utilize my strengths gained with my MPH to further study infectious diseases, but from a wet lab angle. I feel that at the UW, I can develop not just as a scientist, but also as a public health advocate.

What are your research interests?

I am interested in public health, epidemiology, immunology, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. I plan to focus my future thesis project on work that can contribute to vaccine development, diagnostic assay development, or novel treatment development relevant to TB disease.

What are you enjoying most about your graduate program?

I love the UW campus and city of Seattle, which are both incredibly beautiful and have quickly felt like home to me. The Pathobiology cohort is full of really helpful students and faculty that are always willing to chat and offer advice, which has given me a sense of welcome and belonging as I started the program. I also think the classes I have taken so far are intellectually stimulating and full of interesting student-led discussions, and I believe that I am receiving a quality education at the UW.

Did your award influence your decision to attend UW?

Even before I found out that I received the ARCS fellowship, I knew that I wanted to attend the UW as my number one choice as soon as I visited the campus and interviewed with faculty. When I found out that I earned the fellowship, it really cemented my choice to choose to attend the UW over other schools.