Spring 2024 grad: With biochemistry PhD in hand, Andrea Wegrzynowicz heads into reproductive endocrinology postdoc

Andrea Wegrzynowicz, who grew up in Ballston Spa in upstate New York, will be graduating this spring with a PhD in biochemistry. In this Q&A, she talks about the satisfaction of doing the “hard things,” the importance of saying “yes” to spontaneous trips to Babcock Dairy, and her plans to work in infertility and reproductive health.

What drew you to the Integrated Program in Biochemistry/UW-Madison for your graduate studies? Why biochemistry?
As an undergraduate I attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania to study biochemistry. My undergraduate advisor had been a postdoc here, and he brought our lab to visit UW the summer after my junior year of college. I loved everything about Madison when I visited, and especially coming from a small liberal arts college, the sheer size of the research enterprise here was so exciting. From that point on, this was my dream grad school. After I applied and was accepted, I visited the school and it felt like both a great social and research fit. I really like protein biochemistry, and UW has historically been a great place to do that.

What groups and activities were you involved in?
I was in the Graduate Leadership and Development Committee for IPiB, as well as the Biotechnology Training Program (an NIH-funded training grant for students interested in learning about biotechnology and entrepreneurship). I was also involved with Pres House, a campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and spent a lot of time at the campus gyms (first the Nat, then the Nick, now Bakke)! 

What are your career plans – short-term and long-term?
I enjoyed my doctoral research. But one thing that I think has become clear to me is that what I really care about is fertility and infertility, including helping people understand their menstrual cycles, and discovering molecular factors that contribute to why people aren’t getting pregnant when they want to be. After I graduate, I’ll be starting a postdoc here at UW-Madison with Drs. Aleks Stanic-Kostic and Laura Cooney who are both reproductive endocrinologists. In the longer term, I’m interested in both teaching and research in primarily undergraduate settings. I’d love to start a research lab focused on infertility and interdisciplinary research on reproductive health more broadly. 

What were the most valuable/meaningful experiences you had in grad school?
I really enjoyed my time as a teaching assistant and seminar instructor in the biochemistry department. I’ve gotten to mentor several amazing undergraduates, including an REU student, and that was so rewarding and a lot of fun. I’ve also loved all the lab social/bonding events my group has done, including art projects, boating in the summer, and just grabbing food together. Learning from my advisor, Dr. Katie Henzler-Wildman, has definitely been a highlight as well. I admire the ways she thinks about and communicates science, and she’s been an exceptional mentor. Finally, I’ve gotten to attend several conferences, including one in Switzerland! 

When you think about your time here as student, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all the times that I thought something would be really difficult, and then I did it anyway. Taking my preliminary exams, writing (and being awarded) an F31 predoctoral fellowship, learning to run and analyze protein nuclear magnetic resonance experiments, teaching a seminar course on “Biochemistry of Reproductive Hormones,” and publishing papers all come to mind. It’s really special to look back and see how I accomplished all the things that seemed so daunting at the beginning of graduate school. 

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with current and future IPiB grad students? 
You can do hard things! Keep a list of what you’ve accomplished, whether it’s old to-do lists, a planner you can look back on, or something else. Some way to summarize all the experiments, classes, and professional development experiences you’ve had, so on the days when you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels you can remind yourself that you’ve successfully done hard things before and you’ll get through this, too. Similarly, update your CV/resume/LinkedIn whenever you need a little self-esteem boost. 

Also, always go for those spontaneous Babcock Dairy and Terrace trips.