Q&A With A.J. DiGiovanni ’15

The first issue of the Althoff Catholic High School Alumni Magazine, featuring Crusaders in STREAM  (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), will be published later this month. We are excited to share this preview with you and hope that you are as inspired by A.J.’s goals for the future as we are! 

Can you tell us about your major?

“Although I’m still a student, this fall I will begin working in a lab that investigates the genetic anddigiovannineural bases of the motor systems of fruit flies. In my curricular lab work – which the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division of the University of Chicago has designed to emulate real biological research as much as possible – I conduct experiments on DNA and genetics, as well as run computer simulations of biological systems.”

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

“Difficult though they can be, I love writing reports of the experiments I run in class! I find it interesting to present the data in as understandable yet rigorous a manner as possible, and to consider every factor that could have influenced the results so I can make sense of them. It is rewarding when the data fall into place, and if something still remains a mystery on closer inspection, that’s an opportunity to learn something new eventually.”

Is there a meaningful experience you can share?

“The fruits of most research are very long-term, however, as a member of the UChicago NEURO Club, I’ve been able to work with other students to organize educational programs for learners of many ages. We invite high school students to campus to learn about neuroscience through sheep brain dissections, as well as bring speakers in many neuroscientific fields to inform and inspire the university community.”

 What does pursuing your chosen field mean to you?

“As someone who’s fascinated by puzzles and who wants to improve the world through my career, the meaning ofbiological research for me lies in the opportunity it provides to promote human health by solving the puzzles of nature. You would think fruit flies would be far-removed from humans, but in fact there have been so many advances in medicine and human genetics thanks to fruit fly studies, that these organisms are arguably the most efficient research subjects. My hope is that by investigating the development of neural systems, my work will lead to improved treatments for brain illnesses.”

What advice would you give to an Althoff Catholic student who is interested in a major
similar to yours?

“Challenge yourself, and read a lot. Personally, I decided to pursue a biology major after taking Advanced Biology my junior year, so I’d recommend that class for sure along with AP Chemistry and AP Physics (not only do most biology degrees require these subjects, which you may be able to satisfy with AP credit, but also it really helps your understanding of molecular biology to have a grounding in all the sciences). Resources like Scientific American articles and books for a general audience can help you grow comfortable with interpreting scientific literature, and get a sense of what specific kinds of research might interest you. Finding lab positions for the summer can definitely help, but don’t sweat it if you can’t find something. Once you get to college, professors love to welcome students into their labs as long as you show them your genuine interest in their field, and your classes that have a lab component to them will help you adjust to advanced experiments.”

Althoff Catholic hopes to add a STREAM Lab to its campus. What do you think about this addition?

“A STREAM lab at Althoff would be incredible! Even speaking as someone who tends to work better with science ‘on paper’ than hands-on, I cannot overemphasize the importance of giving students the earliest opportunity to take part in the actual process of science, with quality equipment. You can theorize ‘til the cows come home, but in the vast majority of scientific fields (which are crucial to the development of societal well-being, in my opinion), you do not really learn anything new about the way nature works until you break out the Petri dishes, microscopes, and such.”

How do you incorporate your faith into your daily work? “Christ’s emphasis on service even at one’s own expense informs my career path. Breaking into research is evidently a grueling process, but what keeps me going, even more than the joy of learning about this incredibly intricate universe, is the fact that doing science is not about me. It is about helping humanity understand the processes of life so that we can make life better for those burdened by its imperfections.

 

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