Achieving two goals at Mount Holyoke: working in a research lab and studying abroad

“Studying abroad was a life-changing experience. Mount Holyoke gave me the skills necessary to withstand the challenging academics at University of Oxford.”

The pursuit of answering the unknown is something that drives Annie Williams.

It’s one of the reasons she wanted to go into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields before even stepping on campus in South Hadley. The decision to come to Ƶapp was cemented when faculty members took the time and care to answer her questions about the College’s offerings.

“I came from a relatively small high school, so I really wanted a close relationship with my professors,” said Williams. “After visiting Mount Holyoke, I knew I would be in an extremely supportive classroom environment that would give me the skills needed to prepare for a male-dominated field.”

But Williams did not know exactly what STEM major to declare. However, she had two goals — to work in a research lab and study abroad.

The first two years at Mount Holyoke presented many unforeseen and life-changing challenges. Like many in the class of 2023, she was sent home as the world shut down. While the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult enough by itself, she was also processing her mom’s diagnosis of ALS — a progressive neurodegenerative disease that currently has no cure.

Like most people, Williams’ knowledge of the disease was mostly limited to the awareness that came out of the Ice Bucket Challenge a few years earlier. Wanting to know more, Williams met with her professors during their office hours to learn more about scientific research and clinical trials.

It wasn’t long before Williams joined a research lab at Mount Holyoke under the direction of Katie Berry. The Berry Lab provided hands-on experience for learning and sharpening technical laboratory skills. It also expanded Williams’ scientific knowledge, as she knew nothing about bacterial small RNAs before joining the lab. The lab environment also strengthened life skills — time management and the grit to bounce back when things don’t go as planned.

Because of all these things, Williams felt prepared to pursue her second goal in 2021: studying abroad. She knew it was going to be challenging as she was in the middle of a pandemic and there were still many pre-med prerequisites to fulfill.

But studying abroad was important to Williams, and she stuck to her goal. She’s glad that she did.

“Studying abroad was a life-changing experience. Mount Holyoke gave me the skills necessary to withstand the challenging academics at St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford,” said Williams. “Despite the different learning environment at Oxford, my independent study in the lab and interdisciplinary classes at Mount Holyoke prepared me to write, read and think critically.”

The road to success has not been straightforward for Williams, but the perseverance she has shown will carry her into the next stage of her life. She has a job lined up in Boston as a clinical research coordinator while she prepares for her next goal — attending medical school.

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Christian Feuerstein
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