Katie McGourty majored in nursing at a small college, but she found that the profession and college were not a good fit for her. Once the Westford native transferred to UMass Lowell as an applied biomedical sciences major, she could envision her future career.
“I liked that the applied biomedical sciences degree was broad enough where I could work in a clinical lab, an academic research lab or in an industry setting,” says McGourty, a December 2018 graduate who also completed the M.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences program in December 2019.
McGourty took advantage of the university’s Bachelor’s-to-Master’s program, which allowed her to take six credits of graduate-level courses as an undergraduate.
She completed her master’s in one year and landed a job with Pfizer Inc. as a senior associate scientist in the inflammation and immunology department before she had even finished the program.
“I decided to do the accelerated B.S.-M.S. program in pharmaceutical sciences because it was a cost-effective way to get my master’s in a growing field,” says McGourty. “I learned about different aspects of drug development, drug delivery, metabolism and the processes of getting a drug from an idea to the pharmacist’s shelf.”
As an undergraduate, McGourty gained valuable research experience working for Prof. Shannon Kelleher, who studies the role of diet, genetics and environmental factors on the gut microbiome, mucosal inflammation and gastrointestinal health.
“My project focused on a zinc transporter protein, which is found in cells of the small intestine, and the role it plays in inflammation and the development of inflammatory bowel disease,” McGourty says.
Her research culminated in her final semester, when she attended the International Society for Zinc Biology conference in Kyoto, Japan.
“When Prof. Kelleher invited me to go to this conference, I was very excited and also nervous to both travel so far and attend a conference with many experts in the field of zinc research,” says McGourty. “I presented a poster on the role of zinc transporter-2 in inflammatory bowel disease. It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am so grateful I got the opportunity to go.”
She also gained experience working as a research intern for Versatope, a Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) start-up that’s developing a universal flu vaccine.
“I worked on developing a malaria vaccine using E. coli-derived outer-membrane vesicles,” says McGourty. “I like the idea of researching new drug targets and exploring molecular mechanisms of disease. I am particularly interested in autoimmune diseases, and I would like to contribute to drug discovery for autoimmune applications.”
At UMass Lowell, McGourty found that the faculty took an active interest in her success.
“Given the size of the UML student population, I was not expecting such personalized attention. I had a wonderful undergraduate experience, which I owe to great faculty and my amazing advisor,” says McGourty. “I’m grateful to all of the professors who have contributed to my learning and growth.”