Recent graduate Alexandra McMillan is taking strides toward a future in studying the origin and spread of diseases, epidemiology, by a love of science and the pursuit of graduate school opportunities.
McMillan, who majored in biology and minored in chemistry while at Francis Marion University (FMU), graduated in December 2013 and now works as an emergency room scribe at McLeod Hospital in Florence, S.C.
As a scribe, McMillan documents lab results, patients’ medical histories and assists doctors.
McMillan said she aspires to one day work for the Centers for Decease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) and use her knowledge in disease causation and prevention to improve health conditions within communities.
She explained that she had an aptitude for the sciences, and it eventually drew her into the medical field.
“Those things chose me; I didn’t choose [them,]” McMillan said. “I say that because science was never really something that I attached myself to, but I was always really good at it.”
McMillan said she discovered that she had a knack for science in high school.
“I always made good grades in biology and chemistry in high school, and that continued on into college,” she said. “I’m still very interested in science, and I would like to take that even further with doing research in my career….I’m still very much so in love with science.”
Before graduating, McMillan took on an interest-based research study with Dr. Shayna Wrighten, assistant professor of biology, which is now being overseen by another student.
“The research that we came up with is called ‘The Long Term Effects of Parenting Styles on Decision-Making Abilities and Empathetic Responses,’” she said. “We’re going to distribute questionnaires to students so they can answer what parenting styles they grew up with and what decision-making abilities and empathetic responses they have now.”
McMillan said she believes there is a relationship between these two factors.
“There are three parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative or permissive,” she said. “Studies have shown that there are behavioral differences between kids who are brought up with an authoritarian parenting style versus a permissive parenting style.”
McMillan added that Wrighten, whom she had for physiology, was her favorite professor.
“As a research advisor and now with [my] having graduated, she’s definitely a great mentor,” she said. “Sometimes you just need that little kick, someone to say ‘You’re still not done. You’re still not finished. You haven’t completed the race.’”
McMillan is currently applying to graduate school and a post baccalaureate program, which presents opportunities for graduate students who want to gain experience in research and labs.
She said as she looks toward her future, she sees herself as “Dr. Alexandra McMillan with a PhD. in epidemiology” and wants to be satisfied with her academic and professional life, but not comfortable.
“Someone once told me, ‘Never be comfortable with being comfortable,’” she said. “No matter what I’m doing, whether it’s school or in my career, I would like to always find ways that will keep me in a position to keep moving onward and upward.”