Alumni Spotlight – Adam O’Dell

Adam O’Dell graduated from Wake Forest University in 2016 and is now a research lab manager at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles. In the following interview with Professor Macosko, Adam reflects upon his experiences as a student and shares the details about his interesting career path

Prof. Macosko: What are you currently doing?

Adam: I just recently joined as a research lab manager for a Neuro-oncology research lab under Dr. David Tran at Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles. Our lab is focused on exploring treatments for Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) using Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields), a form of low intensity, intermediate-frequency, alternating electric fields. Currently, I am helping get the lab up and running as it’s a new transplant to USC, but will be focusing on rodent neurosurgical techniques with the goal of performing replicable live resections of mouse brain tumors. 

Prof. Macosko: What did you do right out of Wake Forest University?

Adam: I had an interest in Japan after a study abroad trip my Junior year at WFU. So, I applied and was accepted to a Masters program in Bioengineering at University of Tokyo in Japan in the fall of 2016. There I worked in the lab of Dr. Takamasa Sakai with research in applications of synthetic hydrogels as drug delivery systems, and after finishing my degree returned to the US. It was a uniquely challenging and rewarding research experience in Japan, and while I learned much there, I knew that ultimately, I wanted to work back in the US. 

Prof. Macosko: How did Wake Forest Physics help you get where you are today?

Adam: I attribute my career route to two aspects of Wake Forest Physics Dept. First, the research experiments I helped conduct under Dr. Macosko and Dr. George Holzwarth were practical and essential to my foundation of critical thinking and analysis. Whether it was troubleshooting our DIC microscope setup, or working with cell cultures, I received first hand experience with experimental techniques and a way of thinking crucial to a career in science. Second, the classes of the Physics department were most useful in further establishing an application of knowledge, or critical thinking. It was simultaneously the most difficult part of the classes, but the most rewarding. Being able to practice applying formulas and mathematics so that you have to rethink about problems in a different context was unique to my class experience as WFU, and the most useful. I still don’t think I’m skilled enough in critical thinking, but I find that to be the most fundamental skill to my professional success.

Prof. Macosko: Is there anything you would like to share with prospective or current students?

Adam: First, fail as much as you can! By that I mean, fail so much because you are attempting and continuing to try new things. Take pride in your failing. And in failing, you’ll learn much more than you would ever learn through a series of successes. Secondly, something I personally wish I had known; you can do anything with a degree in Physics from WFU. It can feel terrifying at times when thinking about your “ultimate” career and maybe you have no clue what it is. A degree, one in Physics or otherwise, will not box you into one set career path. It might set you up well for one career or another, but don’t worry about feeling too late to change what you can do. The knowledge from a degree, Physics especially, sets you up to tackle whatever path you want to take, because you can always pivot to whatever draws your interest. It might be hard, but it’s never too late to steer your future in another direction.