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Student Spotlight:
Celina Jones, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Molecular and Human Genetics

Opening the Doors to Scientific Exploration through Human Connection

Having parents who served as missionaries in Panamá taught Baylor College of Medicine graduate student Celina Jones the importance of leading a life of service. Watching them, Celina and her siblings gravitated toward fields that focused on human connection. For Celina, that meant linking her love of biology and teaching to inspire a passion for science in young people.

“A lot of people are intimidated by science,” Celina said, “but I think having great people who package the material well in a way that’s accessible to everybody is a huge skill and very needed…Something I love about teaching is the challenge of presenting science in multiple ways so people who learn differently can all understand it.”

To become that teacher, Celina chose Baylor College of Medicine to pursue her Ph.D. with the goal of becoming an undergraduate professor. Baylor’s Genetics & Genomics Graduate Program became her No. 1 choice following interviews where faculty members asked her specific questions about her work and aspirations. She also saw how faculty and students supported each other as a family. No other graduate schools offered this uniquely student-focused environment.

Currently, Celina works in Dr. Alison Bertuch’s lab studying telomeres and their length maintenance pathways. Dr. Bertuch has been an encouraging mentor and an incredible communicator who trained Celina in scientific thinking, writing and presenting—all areas that bring her closer to becoming a college-level educator.

In addition to fantastic mentorship, Celina benefited from Baylor’s teaching programs and connections to other universities in Houston to elevate her training. Through Baylor’s Saturday Morning Science program, Celina led small group discussions to engage 9th and 10th graders from underrepresented minorities in out-of-the-box thinking that fosters problem-solving and leaves them in awe of science. She also brought up the concept of work/life balance, which is important to staving off “burnout.”

The Career Development Center enabled Celina to attend lectures at the University of St. Thomas. There, faculty member Dr. Albert Ribes-Zamora let her teach his class a few times as a guest lecturer. This offered her invaluable experience where she gained feedback directly from students.

One of Celina’s most encouraging moments at Baylor occurred during her first-year journal club class that developed her presentation skills. After her presentation, Dr. Andy Groves, who taught the course, pulled her aside and said, “I’ve been doing this for many years and that was one of the best presentations that I’ve ever seen.” This incredibly validating experience reaffirmed to Celina that she was on the right track at Baylor.

Celina believes that forming connections with faculty and finding mentors is critical for Baylor students just starting their academic journey. She also recommends that they explore their options, try new things and volunteer even if it is not directly related to their field of study.

“Incorporating service into your life is important for everyone,” Celina said, “mostly so that we use our gifts to help others, but also because it reminds us that the world is so much bigger than our jobs and puts things in perspective.”