People don’t always know where the Internet will take them; sometimes it’s on a trail they didn’t set out to follow.
When Casey Rimland typed “medical school” into the empty rectangle under the Google logo and a link to the National Institutes of Health Oxford–Cambridge Scholars Program popped up, she clicked it.
That was three years ago. This fall, Rimland, a May 2012 graduate of UNC Charlotte, will begin an eight-year journey she expects will end with a medical degree, and a doctorate, thanks to the NIH Oxford-Cambridge program.
In May, Rimland learned she was one of four people in the nation this year to receive the eight-year scholarship through the program’s dual-degree track.
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The scholarship will pay her tuition and health insurance, plus a $25,000 yearly stipend and $3,000 annual travel allowance for the next eight years.
By the time she is 30, Rimland will have earned her medical degree from UNC Chapel Hill and her Ph.D. from either Cambridge or Oxford university in England.
She also will have worked alongside some of the leading thinkers in biomedical research. The NIH, the U.K.’s medical research agency, is made up of 27 different institutes, many of which focus on biomedical research.
Rimland still can’t believe the opportunity.
“If someone had told me years ago that I would be going for eight years to get an MD and a Ph.D., I would have probably laughed,” she said. “I was Google-searching for medical schools. I had no idea MD/Ph.D. programs even existed.”
Even more ironic, Rimland never thought she would become a science major in the first place. A late bloomer to the field, she didn’t discover her passion until college, when a biology course turned her on to stem cell research.
Her enthusiasm since for stem cells, which she describes as almost magical, has not waned.
“The potential that they have to do everything, I think, is what makes me so excited about them,” she said. “You could use them with liver. You can use them with heart. Skin. People are trying to use them for bone regeneration. There’s so many avenues for them.”
Though Rimland’s path to a career in science looked winding at first, plenty of signs along the route were pointing her there all along.
As an undergraduate, she became the first UNCC student to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, which gives up to $7,500 each year to sophomores and juniors who show promise in mathematics, natural sciences or engineering.
Plenty of professors stood alongside to give her directions. When she first came across the NIH Oxford-Cambridge program as a sophomore, her biology professors steered her toward many of the research opportunities the NIH finds valuable when selecting candidates.
Every time Rimland’s interests became more specific, her route narrowed a bit more.
“Right now I know for sure I want to do stem cell biology research,” she said. “I’m leaning toward something with a focus in neurobiology, maybe trying to use stem cells for Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases.”
But if the path changes, she’ll be ready for a new avenue.
“Right now, I’m really open,” she said.