"Take Five" is an occasional feature in which we pose five questions to an MBL community member about their career, dreams, and passions. Here we interview the three inaugural scholars from the MBL’s new post-baccalaureate program, Empowering New Graduates to Access Graduate Education in Biology (ENGAGE-Bio). The program, supported in part by the Sloan Foundation, provides research and career training at MBL for recent STEM graduates in the biological sciences. 

Headshot of inaugural ENGAGE BIO scholar Caroline Casian-Rivera

Caroline Casiano-Rivera completed a B.S. in Integrative Biology at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras Campus in May 2023. She’s working in the Jennifer Morgan Lab, studying the impacts of alpha-synuclein on the structure and function of synaptic mitochondria to help us understand ways to manage Parkinson’s Disease.

A headshot of inaugural ENGAGE-Bio Scholar Paula Diaz Sanchez (2023)

Paula Diaz Sanchez completed a B.S. in Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in May 2023. She is working in the Joshua Rosenthal Lab, using cephalopods including hummingbird bobtail squid (Euprymna berryi) as a model organism to study adenosine deamination, a form of RNA editing that could result in the re-coding of codons that could generate protein variants.

A headshot of Samantha Rathbun, inaugural ENGAGE-Bio Postbacc Scholar at the MBL (2023)

Samantha Rathbun obtained her Associates and High school diploma at the same time through a dual enrollment program between Bourne High School and Cape Cod Community College. She went on to complete a B.S. in Biology from the University of Massachusetts Boston, graduating with honors in May 2023. Her project in the Andrew Gillis Lab focuses on investigating the transcriptional signature and embryonic origin of neuroendocrine Merkel cells in the skate (Leucoraja erinacea) in order to resolve ancestral gene expression features and embryonic origin of this cell type.

What made you apply to the ENGAGE-Bio Program?

Casiano-Rivera: A desire for more experience in neuroscience research in a place that had great resources and a good environment to work. 

Diaz Sanchez: During my undergrad, I joined Dr. Kellee Siegfried’s lab as an undergraduate research assistant, where we studied gonad development in zebrafish. I became passionate about research and inspired to pursue higher education. However, I wanted to gain some more research experience and explore other research topics before applying to grad school. I also wanted to learn more about what to expect from graduate school and the application process.  

Rathbun: I applied to the ENGANE-Bio program because I felt as if I needed more experience before pursuing my graduate education. Although I am glad I did dual enrollment, it made it so that I only had one and a half years in an undergraduate lab at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where other students along the same track as me may have had two to three years of experience. 

What is your favorite part of being embedded in a lab (or at the MBL in general)? 

Casiano-Rivera:  Being able to contribute to scientific advancements! Just knowing I may be helping so many people with what I am doing. 

Diaz Sanchez: I love attending the Bell Center talks and learning about other labs’ research! During these meetings, people ask valuable questions and bounce ideas off one another. I also love the MBL’s collaborative environment: everyone really wants to see you succeed. 

Rathbun: That would be the community 100%. Everyone here has been nothing but supportive. Labs end up being like family away from home. You spend more than half your day with them, and they become more than mentors and coworkers. They become people you can rely on for not only lab troubles, but personal matters as well.


Hummingbird bobtail squid (Euprymna berryi).
The ENGAGE-Bio scholars are taking advantage of the wide range of research organisms, including the hummingbird bobtail squid (E. berryi). Credit: Tim Briggs

What about your experience do you think is unique to the MBL? 

Casiano-Rivera:  There is a unique built community here that makes this a great place to be.

Diaz Sanchez: MBL hosts an array of unique model organisms, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to join the program! In graduate school, I hope to continue to study the molecular mechanisms that allow marine animals to survive in harsh environments, so having the opportunity to work with cephalopods such as E. berryi is an invaluable experience. 

Rathbun: How large and integrated the community is. At my university, people involved in different subjects rarely spoke but here, everyone is working on vastly different projects, and we can all come together to give input and support. I feel like there is always a friendly face and someone you can chat with. It is a hub of people with a similar passion for science that I haven't encountered anywhere else before.

How has your time in the ENGAGE-Bio program differed from your experience during your undergraduate education? 

Casiano-Rivera: I think I can say these two completely different experiences are more similar than one may think, because my undergrad experience pushed me to where I am right now, and the ENGAGE-Bio program will now take me to a newer experience in my career.

Diaz Sanchez: Compared to my undergraduate education, ENGAGE-Bio is much more immersive. I loved my undergraduate research experience—but having to divide my time between the lab and classes meant that sometimes I could not give my research my 100%. This program allows me to focus all my time and energy on my research while preparing for graduate school. 

Rathbun: The major difference is that I can put all of my time and energy into research instead of worrying about classes and another full-time job in order to pay my rent. Without these worries and being able to put all my focus on my research, I don't feel rushed, defeated or fatigued in the ENGAGE-Bio program as I did during my undergraduate education. I also think it's important because this program is much more like a graduate education in the same standpoint of not having to worry about another job, which lets you focus on making new breakthroughs in your work. 

How do you think your time at the MBL will affect your career trajectory?

Casiano-Rivera:  I firmly believe the time I am spending here will take me closer to where I wish to get in the scientific community.  

Diaz Sanchez: I think that my time at the MBL will make me a better candidate for graduate school by giving me the research and scientific communication skills necessary to make me successful. It will also help me solidify my career plans by allowing me to explore multiple disciplines. 

Rathbun: I think that my time here at the MBL will help empower me to achieve my career goals. It has opened my eyes to the other side of science that you don't get in an undergraduate institution. The community here is like nothing else, from the post-docs to the RA's, everyone has given me insightful input and support. It has definitely helped me focus my career path even further on performing basic science. 

Learn more about the ENGAGE-BIO Program