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UMF graduate and first-generation college student goes on to cellular research Ph.D. program after gene discovery

First-generation college student Anyssa Phaneuf, a member of the UMF graduating Class of 2022, always liked knowing how things work.

That curiosity and her Farmington experience helped her grow during her college career from a first-year student to a UMF graduate who has been accepted into the University of Vermont’s Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program.

Originally from Manchester, New Hampshire, Phaneuf emerged from high school interested in the science field. She was looking for a college that offered small classes and the opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors as she explored her career interests.

Farmington was a good match with its small pre-med program that offered coursework to prepare graduates for medical school. The program was developed by a pre-professional advisory group of UMF faculty, medical school advisors and Maine Medical Center and Franklin Memorial Hospital physicians and residents. Phaneuf worked closely with Mariella Passarelli, professor of chemistry and the program adviser, to learn more about her medical career options.

However, she soon became fascinated with cellular biology and the study of the cell at the molecular level. Her class work and research on genetics and gene expression with Jean Doty and Timothy Breton, UMF biology professors, helped inform her career path.

“UMF played a big part in my life decision to pursue the emerging scientific field of epigenetics or cellular research,” said Phaneuf. “My faculty mentors’ support really empowered me to believe in myself and feel ‘I can do this’.”

Phaneuf worked closely with Dr. Breton and a team of student research assistants on a national research project. Their work discovered a new gene in fish that may have an impact on understanding several diseases found in humans, including diabetes, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. UMF research discovers new gene.

Along with the team, she co-authored a professional paper on the gene discovery that has been published in the international journal scientific reports.

“My close interaction with faculty provided me with many pre-professional opportunities and helped me grow as a person, a student and a scientist,” Phaneuf said.

Phaneuf’s experience with Breton’s research helped her apply and get accepted into the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program at Harvard last summer where she assisted in developing new projects and created a research proposal.

“Anyssa was an outstanding student who took advantage of many opportunities at UMF to grow and expand her experience in biology.  We were able to provide her with a small team environment working directly with other students while also fostering connections to larger networks, such as those at MDI Biological Laboratory and the University of Florida. Those hands-on experiences have given Anyssa a strong foundation for a promising graduate career, and we are so proud of her,” said Timothy Breton, UMF associate professor of biology.

Photo credit: Anyssa Phaneuf, right, conducting a computer analysis for the national research project that resulted in the new gene discovery with teammate Andrew Wilcox. (Courtesy of UMF)

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