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December 2021 grad: Philip Flejsierowicz discovered a love of teaching

Photo courtesy of Philip Flejsierowicz.

Philip Flejsierowicz, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will be graduating with a degree in microbiology. In this Q&A, Flejsierowicz talks about his upbringing, experiences as an undergraduate researcher and teaching assistant, and his career plans.

Q: Where did you grow up?
I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I was raised by my Polish mother and father. At home, I grew up speaking Polish with my family while learning English at school. From a young age, I had the opportunity to spend my summers in Poznań, Poland where I spent time with my family and friends. My Polish American upbringing has given me a unique perspective on the world, and it has made me appreciate all the wonderful opportunities in the United States. As a first-generation American citizen, I am proud of both my Polish heritage and American roots, and I hope to share this cultural enthusiasm with others.

Q: How did you decide on your major?
From the start of college, I knew I wanted to pursue academic, STEM-based research. Naturally, this led me to explore the disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, and genetics. However, I was mostly drawn to biology because I knew I wanted to pursue medicine after graduation, so I wanted to learn how to answer biological questions. At the time that I declared my major, I knew nothing about microbiology. In fact, I had never heard of the field before. However, after my academic advisor told me about the famous reputation of microbiology at UW–Madison, I knew I had to try it. I also believed that if there was a beautiful building like the Microbial Sciences Building committed to a single major, then the major was worth studying. I was not wrong!

Q: What were the most meaningful college experiences you had?
Undeniably, my research and teaching assistant roles have been the most meaningful college experiences. My sophomore year, I joined my first research lab where I could finally apply my coursework knowledge to a scientific setting. While there was a steep learning curve at first, my principal investigator and mentor motivated me to become a better student and thinker. I was excited to learn new things in class, so that I could directly apply these concepts to the lab setting (and vice versa). After one year in the lab, I became a teaching assistant for Biochemistry 501 where I was able to strengthen my scientific comprehension and pursue my passion for teaching. In fact, I loved teaching so much that in my last semester I became a teaching assistant for Microbiology 304 and Microbiology 527. As a teaching assistant, I have had the pleasure of working with exceptional professors and brilliant students. It has been a joy to share my enthusiasm for science with my professors, peers, and students at UW–Madison.

Q: When you think about your time here as a student, what are you proud of?
I am proud of my personal growth both as a student and as a person. When I began college, I was more cautious with my involvement on campus. Since then, I have tried to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I realized that in order to grow as a person, I had to become comfortable with discomfort. This realization led me to try new things each year. This fall, I became a co-author on my first primary research article, which was a very proud moment for me and the cherry on top before graduation.

Q: What are your future academic / career plans?
It has always been my goal to become a physician. My short-term academic goal is to be accepted into a medical school, and my long-term career goal is to become a practicing physician. Ideally, I hope to integrate research and teaching into my practice someday. There are many areas of medicine that excite me, but I have a particular interest in medical oncology.

Q: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
My advice to CALS students is to get to know your professors as best as you can. Form a friendship with them, ask them about their work, go to office hours, and be a curious student. There is no way that professors will remember you in a large lecture, so you must initiate the dialogue with them. You will find that they love helping students learn, and they are very passionate about their work. Most of us only go to college once, so take advantage of the opportunity to speak to experts in their fields. They will help you navigate the stressful college experience and make the college experience more personal at such a large school.