Senior Spotlight: Minna Apostolova
This May, we’re shining the spotlight on some of our College of Arts and Science seniors! Meet Minna Apostolova, a major in biochemistry and chemical biology, who also has minors in scientific computing and European studies. Minna also participates in the SyBBURE Searle Undergraduate Research Program, is the co-founder of the Vanderbilt Vanguard, and has served on the Student Advocates for Public Health Council, among other activities. She was the recipient of a Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2021 and a 2022 NSF GRFP fellowship.
What was your favorite class and why?
It’s impossible to just choose one! Bioorganic chemistry with Dr. Lars Plate demonstrated to me the critical importance of understanding the chemical underpinnings of biology by learning about cutting edge cancer treatments and antiviral medications. Immunology with Dr. Ann Tate also gave me a deep appreciation of the delicate and intricate balance of activation and suppression that drives immune responses. As a former high school theater kid, Dr. Edward Friedman’s honor’s seminar on American drama presented a really engaging and exciting way to learn about American history through the lens of the great American plays. Cross currents in music and art with Dr. Michael Rose deepened my love and appreciation for the intersection of history, music, and art, and Dr. David Price’s first year writing seminar on Renaissance art and politics dramatically improved my writing skills while sparking my interest in pursuing further coursework in European studies. Finally, Introduction to European intellectual history with Dr. Alexander Schmidt was my first exposure to the great philosophical works and really prompted me to re-examine my world view.
Can you tell us about your research experiences?
I’ve been extremely lucky to work in the Dr. Mary Philip Lab since the second semester of my freshman year. I can honestly say that working with her and the other members of the lab changed the trajectory of my career and played a major role in shaping who I am today. We seek to understand why CD8 T cells can’t kill cancer cells, a process termed T cell dysfunction. My senior thesis seeks to begin understanding how signaling at the T cell receptor (the part of the T cell that recognizes cancer proteins) is dysregulated in T cell dysfunction. Going through the process of designing, writing, and presenting this thesis has served as an invigorating learning opportunity to synthesize all of the skills I’ve acquired over the last several years.
What are you most proud of during your time at Vanderbilt?
I am most proud of the journey of self-discovery I’ve embarked on over the last two years. I struggled with a lot of self-doubt at the beginning of my college career. With the help of my incredibly dedicated mentors here at Vanderbilt, of whom there are too many to name, I’ve discovered what is important to me, both in my professional and personal life. They have helped me grow into a more confident young scientist, cultivate my passions in advocacy and mentorship, and find a healthy, sustainable, and happy path forward. Learning to accept what works best for me is the greatest gift I could have asked for during college.
What advice would you give to incoming Vanderbilt students?
Trust yourself and the process. College will present you with an infinite number of choices, and it may feel very overwhelming at times. But just remember, if you’re making the decisions that are right for you at the time with the best information you have, you’re on the right path. There is no one path to success; as long as you persist in working hard, learn from your mistakes, and follow your interests, you will find your path. Growth is slow and often painful in the moment, but it will make you all the stronger when you look back at your time at Vanderbilt in four years.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
I hope to complete my Ph.D. in immunology in the next five years or so. During that time, I will aim to expand my professional skill set, deepen my understanding of tumor immunology, and continue my journey of personal growth. I’m really excited about this next chapter!
What is your best memory from your time at Vanderbilt?
My fondest memories at Vanderbilt are the little moments. The impromptu music sessions at Blaire, insightful conversations with professors, late-night conversations with lab mates, moments in which I’ve seen younger students and mentees grow, random conversations with peers about topics they are deeply passionate about, and trips with friends. These little moments and the deep, meaningful connections with professors and friends are the gems that will stay with me long after I leave Vanderbilt. Thank you to everyone who made them possible.