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Sierra Hansen

Experiences. Achievements.
A Career Path.

Build your Career Path in Real Time

Every Path Starts Somewhere

– Sierra Hansen –

When I came to Nebraska, I was going to study philosophy and then go to med school. I had my whole life planned—and I was wrong.

It’s really scary when you’re 18 and you feel like you know nothing, have no experience in anything, and aren’t qualified for the enormous menu of opportunities available through the university. It can be daunting.

The teaching assistant in my first biology class was a senior who gave me the courage to pursue opportunities I was interested in. He was a research-focused biochemistry major, so I decided to try on the role of being him to see if it fit me. He quickly became my mentor and encouraged me to reach out to professors and ask for research positions in their labs. I felt like I was saying to faculty, “Hey, can I work for you, even though I have no qualifications?” But professors at Nebraska really value that you’re willing to put in the effort and be tough enough to face the possibility that you won’t hear back or get the opportunity you’re aiming for.

I ended up meeting with three of the ten professors I emailed and picked Dr. Wilson to work with. I was just a volunteer to begin with, and then I got hired on through UCARE, the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience program, to continue working in his lab.

“Working in Dr. Wilson’s lab through UCARE was the catalyst for everything that happened afterwards.”

— Sierra Hansen

The Momentum of Opportunities

Working in Dr. Wilson’s lab through UCARE was the catalyst for everything that happened afterwards. I switched to the biochemistry program and decided to pursue research more seriously. I started college wanting to be a doctor. I had never really considered research as a path. I thought of it as a box I had to check on my way to medical school, but I started finding a real passion for it in myself and investing more time and energy in my work at the lab. That passion led me to apply for a lot of different fellowships.

I earned the Beckman Scholarship through the university, which supported me while I conducted a 15-month research project. Then I was accepted into a research program through the German government, where English speakers from the United States, Canada and the U.K. spend a summer working in German labs. All of these opportunities facilitated the next ones. Getting a UCARE position through the university helped me to get the Beckman Scholarship, which helped me get into the German program, which collectively helped me to get into multiple M.D.- Ph.D. programs—which is where I’m headed next. I just signed my acceptance to start an M.D.-Ph.D. program after I do a gap year studying at the German lab I worked in.

Let Your Unique Path Evolve

I strongly believe that getting yourself on a path that’s going to get you great jobs you’re passionate about comes from surrounding yourself with people who are good at what they do and willing to help you reach your goals. Even if you don’t necessarily want to do what they do, they can help you grow and diversify your interests.

I had no idea I would be where I am today, studying proteins implicated in cancers, strokes and Parkinson’s, on my way to an M.D.-Ph.D. I didn’t anticipate all of these awesome experiences and I’ve learned that it can be detrimental to have a really firm plan when you come to college because there’s so many things to explore at Nebraska. I think that getting involved early and seeing what’s out there is really important because it can profoundly shape what you end up doing with your life.

There is no right or wrong way to do college, but the key is to be open to exploring different things that come along. There are a lot of incredible opportunities available here, if you’re willing to pursue them.