Leaping Into the Forefront of Biochemistry Research

Pay It Northward—and a Colby-prepared scientist— leads Maria Armillei to timely opportunity

Meredith Crane ’04
By Kayla Lewkowicz Voigt ’14Photography by Gabe Souza
December 16, 2020

With so many labs shut down due to COVID-19 regulations, Maria Armillei ’20 wasn’t sure if she would be able to start her career after graduation.

A chemistry major concentrating in biochemistry, Armillei pursued her honors thesis with Julie Millard, the Dr. Gerald and Myra Dorros Professor of Chemistry, exploring whether genetics determines your ability to taste bitter foods—like hoppy IPAs, dark chocolate, or leafy greens. This kind of first-hand research, in addition to several summers of undergraduate research at the University of Maine and University of Connecticut, made Armillei certain that there was more to discover before applying to graduate school.

Most early-career scientists spend a few years as research assistants or lab technicians before moving on to graduate school, where they can zero in on a particular area of focus. That’s exactly what Meredith Crane ’04 did after she graduated from Colby.

Meredith Crane ’04
Meredith Crane ’04

“I wouldn’t have gotten that first job if I didn’t have my Colby degree. I got my first look at lab experience at Colby in Associate Professor Andrea Tilden’s lab. That’s one of the unique things about Colby—even though it’s small in terms of research, you have direct interaction with the professors doing the research. You can see that their focus is on the students, and you really feel that sense of community.”

Meredith Crane ’04

Crane took a job right out of school as a lab technician at The Jackson Labs in Bar Harbor, Maine, a Colby partner institution. Now she’s part of a team researching viral lung infections at Brown University’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. Crane’s team hopes their research can shed more light on how viruses like COVID-19 and influenza overwhelm the lung and make it susceptible to secondary infections—and what treatments can be more effective in the future.

When Crane noticed an open position on a new team at the lab at Brown, she didn’t hesitate, emailing her former advisor, Andrea Tilden, the J. Warren Merrill Associate Professor of Biology, to encourage Colby students to apply. “I had no hesitation recommending a Colby student,” Crane said, “because I knew they’d have what it took to succeed in the role.”

She connected with Armillei, helping her land the position.

Maria Armillei ’20
Maria Armillei ’20

“If it hadn’t been for DavisConnects, I wouldn’t have known about or applied for the position. I feel so lucky that there was a position open.”

Maria Armillei ’20

Now, Armillei is able to take the next step in her career in biochemistry. The lab focuses on studying the immune system and pathogens from viruses, bacteria, and fungi, learning how pathogens interact with different parts of human immune systems.

Her role as a research assistant gives her another opportunity to apply the knowledge, skills, and research experience acquired at and through  Colby to  pressing scientific topics—her team looks at the interplay between the immune system and the female reproductive tract—before applying to graduate school in the future.

Pay It Northward and DavisConnects

Pay It Northward, overseen by DavisConnects, is the Colby campaign to provide postgraduate opportunities to the Class of 2020. Last year’s graduates entered a job market profoundly impacted by Covid-19. Hiring freezes, withdrawal of jobs and fellowships—all of this threatens to derail graduates’ careers and keep them out of the workforce when the world needs their talents most.

Learn more about Pay It Northward