A Conversation with Minerva Student Florence

Meet Florence, a student in the Class of 2019 | Apr, 9, 2018

Quick Facts

Florence Pauline Basubas

Cebu, Philippines


Major & Concentrations
Natural Sciences: Drug Discovery Research
Social Sciences: Designing and Implementing Policies


What are some of your passions and interests?

I am very passionate about science and research, and I hope to use my skills to help contribute solutions to the most pressing issues in the world. For example in high school, I did research on how to sorb heavy metals from contaminated water so both freshwater and the metals could be reused. I hope to one day rehabilitate polluted rivers in cities like my hometown, where industries are continuously contaminating nearby water. This is a huge environmental challenge, especially in countries like the Philippines.

Additionally, I’m a peace and emergency preparedness advocate, being a Girl Scout of the Philippines, and aspire to volunteer in war-torn countries and emergency response units. Then there is my interest in astronomy, which was what first drew me to the field of science. I still hope to someday be part of a spaceflight mission as an astrobiochemist and physician. And while I don’t consider myself very artistic, I do write plays, poems, articles, and musical lyrics from time to time. I also like to travel. Last year, while we were in Berlin, I toured Germany alone over the winter break. I make sure to do four things whenever I visit a city: try the local delicacies, visit something related to science (e.g., a museum, research institute, or laboratory), walk around the city for an entire day, and give back to the community.

Why did you select your major and concentration?

When I was about to graduate high school, people would ask me what I wanted to study in college and I would answer, “isn’t there something called ‘BioChemiPhysics’?” I am very passionate about science and research, so when I saw that Minerva offered Research Analyses, I knew it was the school for me. I initially chose to double major in Social Sciences, because I was interested in economics. However, while traveling the world, I realized that science should not end in laboratories. We scientists have to share our discoveries and make sure they are applied well in the real world. This is why I chose to design my own concentrations — Drug Discovery Research and Designing & Implementing Policies — to prepare for a career in public health as an infectious disease scientist, doctor, and policymaker.

What do you aspire to do when you graduate?

I want to help decrease the incidence and deaths caused by infectious diseases, especially of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). My initial aim was only to find sustainable cures for several infectious diseases. However, this is a complex problem for several reasons. Biologically, microorganisms have complex life cycles. Socially, the issue of infectious diseases is complex, entangled in politics and incurring huge economic costs. That is why I also hope to organize a national immunization program, first in the Philippines, then worldwide. My goal for this program is to help centralize immunization records in order to enable personalized decisions, since vaccinating for certain diseases should take into consideration certain host factors.

Before Minerva, I was working on finding a cure for dengue fever, but at that time I was only focused on the Philippines. While in Seoul, I was able to work at the Institut Pasteur Korea, a nonprofit infectious disease laboratory that has a network of laboratories all over the world. Right now, I’m connecting with biotech and pharmaceutical companies in India, where my cohort and I are currently studying. India and the Philippines have some similarities in this field (for e.g., both have the same public health concerns). I’m also a social media ambassador for the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), where I get to network with other scientists who share my passion and interest in helping the younger generation. For example, I am currently advocating for NYAS mentoring programs that connect mentors with high school students developing their own research projects.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Minerva community?

I most enjoy being with a very diverse group of students. Though we’re different in many ways, we also feel really connected. Unlike other schools, we don’t compete with each other. Instead, we share our skills. For example, I am strengthening my programming skills with the help of my classmates who are very good at programming. And, since I’m good at research, I in turn help my classmates who have had less experience in this field. I now have a network of friends from all over the world, and a couch to crash on wherever I might go in the future.

Tell us about a meaningful or thought-provoking interaction you have had with a Minerva professor.

Some of my classmates and I are so passionate about what we’re learning in our Senior Tutorial that, in addition to the tutorial itself, we also meet to discuss other topics and class material in separate, student-led sessions. Through the years at Minerva, I have received comments from some of my professors that the assignments I have submitted featured graduate-level work. When I shared the Senior Tutorial work my classmates and I are doing, my academic advisor, Professor Randi Doyle, told me that it was akin to the work she did in graduate school. I think it’s so cool that the Minerva community enables experiences like this.

Tell us more about the research you did at the Institut Pasteur Korea while studying in Seoul. How did you hear about this opportunity?

I really wanted to work in a laboratory that focused on dengue research so I looked for labs in Seoul and found Institut Pasteur Korea. I sent them an email with my cover letter and résumé. At first, the human resources department didn’t reply, so I decided to send an email directly to the laboratory supervisors I was most interested in, and less than half an hour later they replied asking to have a Skype call with me. During the call, they indicated how my unique experience piqued their interest to accept my application, even though I am still an undergraduate student.

What was the nature of the research you were doing?

I worked in the Applied Molecular Virology Laboratory and our team was working on Hepatitis research. I was an assistant for my senior researchers who were working on Hepatitis B and E. The team was mostly working on developing a more efficient model of infecting cells with the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) to improve the laboratory technique to be used in other HBV research, such as drug discovery. It is a challenge several researchers have been trying to tackle for years, due to the complexity of the HBV structure and life cycle.

Although the lab wasn’t specifically working on dengue, I valued my work because I believe even the little things have the potential to be impactful. For example, I was doing mycoplasma tests that seemed very easy and basic, but were actually important to ensuring the cells being used by the lab were not contaminated with other microorganisms that could degrade the cells or affect the results of experiments, like drug screening.

Why was this research important?

According to the most recent Global Burden of Disease study, a third of the world’s population has been infected with HBV at some point in their lives, with more than 350 million having chronic infections that could lead to liver cancer. Each year, over 750,000 die of Hepatitis B, and 300,000 patients develop liver cancer. This is because there is still no effective and sustainable cure for Hepatitis B, due to the lack of a more realistic infectious cell culture system in drug discovery research.

What were three HCs you found most relevant and useful during your internship?

The three most relevant HCs for me were #experimentaldesign, #multipleagents, and #variables, because we had to discuss and analyze a lot of experiments, not just our own but also the most recent work in the field. Whenever someone had a research idea, we would brainstorm how we could conduct experiments, taking note of #variables and #controls. Since viruses are very complex systems composed of several biological components, some of which are still unknown, we always had to set proper controls in experiments in order to make sure we were establishing causation.

What were the outcomes of your research?

The team I was working with was able to develop a more efficient model of infecting cells with HBV. I was also able to use some unpublished results of some of the smaller experiments I helped with for one of my final projects in my Natural Sciences 152: Analyzing Matter and Molecules class, which was about technology and techniques in different fields of science. I am most proud of being the youngest person to have ever been accepted to work in that laboratory and experience something most undergraduates don’t get to experience. I am also proud I was able to conduct experiments independently during my last few months there, which was one of my goals for that internship. I was even entrusted to pipette in 384-well plates, a skill that needs to be meticulously developed.

How is the research you conducted related to what you are studying at Minerva?

What I am learning in the lab complements very well with what I am learning at Minerva. For example, when we talk about bacterial transformations in my Life’s Chemistry class or enzyme linked immuno-assays in Analyzing Matter and Molecules, I get excited because I’ve observed these techniques at the Institut Pasteur Korea lab. When my supervisor asked me about restriction enzymes, or DNA purification, I was able to explain them and share how I learned about them in class. I’m also now more prepared to plan and work on my Capstone project, which will be a more biomolecular-level experiment on the inferences I’ve made, based on my past research on potential dengue treatments. This will be very relevant to my goal of helping find a cure for dengue and other infectious diseases.

If you were inspired by Florence’s story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.