Diving Right into a Career in Infectious Disease

Isabella Renzi, VG19, works for a biotech company evaluating potential antigens for vaccines
Isabella Renzi posing for a photo

Growing up in Massachusetts, Isabella Renzi, VG19, always wanted to go veterinary school and work with animals. But during her undergraduate career at the University of Rhode Island, she explored courses on infectious diseases of animals and microbiology. She realized she owed it to herself to keep an open mind and rethink her graduate plans and career path.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, she took a year off and worked at a veterinary clinic. She knew she wanted to go back to school, but she wasn’t sure what her next step would be. During that year, she found the M.S. in Infectious Disease and Global Health program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

“I think because it was on a veterinary campus gave me the feeling I was in the right place,” she said. “I've always had a fascination for little things that you can't see but make such a big impact on us. We're living through that right now with COVID-19.”

During the year-long program, Renzi said one of the highlights was meeting her classmates, forming a bond with them, and leaning on each other when labs were tough. Her commute to and from school was more than an hour each way, which made for very long days. Still, she said it was “definitely a bonus” to spend time with classmates outside school.

Another highlight, she said, was learning cell culture from her mentor at Cummings School, Abhineet Sheoran, director of the MSIDGH program. In the summer of 2019, she had the opportunity to do a lot of cell culture work with him. The experience ultimately helped her land a position as a research associate in the infectious disease group at Moderna, a biotech company.

“I work in the antigen design and selection team. I characterize and evaluate potential antigens for vaccines, and I do a lot of protein production and purification,” she said.

Renzi said she loves where she is in her life right now, and she thanked her parents and her sister for supporting her along the way. Back when she worked at the veterinary clinic, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t in the right place. She doesn’t have that feeling any more.

“I'm learning so much more than my brain can catch up with sometimes,” she laughed. “I think this industry is good for me, and it's pushing me in the right direction.”

Her advice for future students in the MSIDGH program? Hang in there and trust the process. “At times you will feel like you just can't do it. But the instructors have helped shape the program for the better. They ask for feedback from each class and they make changes from that. But again, it's an accelerated master’s program. You're in for the ride.”