When Rick Miller ’13C came to St. John's University, he was certain he would eventually go to medical school. However, Miller's professors encouraged him to explore all his options, and since then, he has embraced academic research as a potential career.
Last summer, Miller, a Biology major, achieved one of his most prized academic goals when he was selected to assist Nobel Laureate Eric Wieschaus, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, in researching the embryonic development of fruit flies, a field of study that has practical applications for cancer and stem cell research.
"Genes in flies are homologues to genes in mammals,” Miller said. “By studying them, we gain a better understanding of the way those genes develop in humans.” Much of the work in Dr. Wieschaus' lab focused on how embryonic cells connect and interact with each other. “When it comes to cancer,” Miller explained, “cells lose their ability to adhere to each other, and they break apart. Understanding the mechanisms important to holding cells together can help us to develop cancer treatments.”
Miller became interested in academic research while working with Christopher Bazinet, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Sciences. “The background I got in Dr. Bazinet's lab made me more excited about pursuing biological research,” Miller said. “He's a great mentor and has a great philosophy of science.”
Miller, President of the Biology Students Organization, networks and shares ideas with fellow students and professors. The group hosts departmental lecturers, providing faculty with opportunities to speak to a cross-section of Biology majors — especially about new initiatives. Members also participate in community service activities, which include cleaning a park adjacent to Jamaica High School each semester. "It’s a great way to bring students and faculty together,” said Miller.
Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Miller received an e-mail from the University inviting him to apply. He decided to investigate further. “I always loved New York, so I looked into the University. When I visited the Queens, NY, campus, it seemed like a great fit.” Miller also appreciates the financial assistance the University provides.
Miller looks forward to obtaining a Ph.D. and pursuing research either in the corporate sector or academia. His preference is for academics. “I like the freedom,” he explained. “You get your own lab. You control the direction [of the research]. The work you do benefits the university, and, at the end of the day, if you discover something, it's your discovery.”