Biochem & molecular bio grad, Phillips ՚20, prepared for med school

Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Degree: B.A. biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in psychology

Alicia Phillips '20
Alicia Phillips ’20

The summer before Alicia Phillips’ junior year of high school, her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. Her grandfather was her best friend and she found herself spending a lot of time with him in the hospital. Before her junior year of high school began, her grandfather died. 

“I was truly inspired by the compassion and dedication of his doctors,” Phillips says. “As I learned more, I saw how being a physician would allow me to pursue my passions, challenge me and push me to be a lifelong learner, and I also saw it as a way I could serve other people my whole life. I knew that being a doctor was the only profession I could see myself doing.”

Before the summer spent beside her ailing grandfather, Phillips’ diverse set of interests—art, sports, science, and writing—didn’t necessarily point to a clear choice of study for her college academics. Her interest in science and how the brain works blossomed after her experiences at the hospital. At Cornell College, she pursued those interests with majors in biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in psychology

Phillips graduated from Cornell in 2020 and doesn’t think she could have gotten the same experiences on a semester-driven schedule as she was able to glean from One Course At A Time. She says the block plan allows for exploration, different ways of approaching the material being studied, all within a rapid learning curve. 

“You have the ability to reinvent yourself in each block and try new things and at the same time, on the block system, you learn in a way that allows you to delve deeper into the material. I am also so thankful that the block plan enabled me to be a committed student, play a sport at the collegiate level, join clubs and activities I was passionate about, and study abroad,” says Phillips, who played volleyball for the Rams. “The block plan really gave me the opportunity to create a unique and personalized education centered around my own passions and interests.”

After her sophomore year, Phillips shadowed medical professionals across specialties in Pontevedra, Spain, racking up over 80 hours of job shadow time. The culturally immersive experience helped her witness different approaches to healthcare, more so than if she only shadowed professionals in the U.S. 

Phillips at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, after watching two open heart surgeries.
Phillips at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora during her Cornell Fellowship, after watching two open-heart surgeries.

Phillips, who is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, was also a Cornell Fellow the summer prior to her senior year—the Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research at the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. She says it was an invaluable experience. She worked with Dr. Hadley-Miller, whom she felt was an incredible mentor and role model. She saw how clinical research translates to patient care, collected data, and conducted research on growth plate injuries in the lower extremities. Phillips gained experience with medical notation and databases after reviewing thousands of patient charts. At the end of her fellowship, she presented to the Musculoskeletal Research Center and she expects a paper publishing credit this summer as a result of her experience. 

“It was very meaningful to me because I got to work on something that will hopefully help kids in the future,” Phillips says. “It was eye-opening to see such resilient and brave kids who were so bright and happy in the face of their challenges every day I was at the hospital. It also put into perspective and reinforced why I am pursuing a career in medicine.”

She says the career coaches at the Berry Career Institute helped prepare her through mock interviews for her interview with the Health Professions Committee (HPC) that ultimately selected her to be a fellow. Mark Kendall, who serves on the HPC, says he was impressed by her academics, her strong work ethic, and her dedication to her goals. 

“Alicia is a very engaged and helpful student,” Kendall says, also noting she helped spearhead the student mentoring program where upper-class students mentor first and second-year students who are interested in pre-med. “She’s a true campus citizen in that she knows her goals and as she pursues them, she also helps others along the way.”

Medical research isn’t the only kind Phillips can list on her CV, however. Her senior capstone research project focused on fire corals in San Salvador, Bahamas. She learned about the diversity of oceanic ecosystems and the importance of protecting coral reefs during an off-campus course there. 

Phillips considers her crowning academic achievement the A she earned in Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Barbara Christie-Pope’s course Immunology, a course she notes that has a reputation for being one of the toughest courses you can take at Cornell. 

“I knew that I would have to work hard,” Phillips says. “It was definitely challenging, but also one of my favorite courses. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how our immune system operates on such a deep level.”

Each week, Phillips and her classmates were assigned five case studies and on Friday they would randomly present on one of them.  

“It was such a powerful way to learn more about the concepts from class and apply them to real-life situations,” she says. “I think that it prepared me for medical school where you have to know everything about a case and be able to present that information in a concise way.”

Phillips has spent a lot of time dedicated to research, including as a research assistant in Professor of Psychology Melinda Green’s NIH-funded study at her Eating Disorder Institute. But Phillips has a diverse range of extracurriculars that she also dedicated time to while at Cornell, including as an athlete—four years on the volleyball team and as a volleyball representative in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC); as a tour guide for the Admissions Office, for which she says she loved meeting prospective students and their families; as the vice president of the Dimensions Health Professions Society and as a member of Phi Omega; as a mentor to young children in the Lunch Buddies program through the Civic Engagement Office and as a member of the Berry Career Institute’s LEADS program. 

“Ultimately, I think that every extracurricular activity I participated in at Cornell was something I was passionate about,” she says. “Each of them enabled me to grow as an individual, create friendships, and develop lifelong skills.”

That doesn’t mean she automatically knew how to balance her time well when she first arrived on the Hilltop. In fact, she considers her greatest challenge at Cornell was learning how to cut herself some slack and stay balanced.

“Looking back now, I have learned that the most important thing is to focus on what you are learning and the progress you are making, not necessarily the grade you got or the end result,” she says. “I learned that taking care of yourself and giving yourself breaks is just as important as working hard. I feel like I have grown a lot in these past four years.”

What’s next for this already accomplished Cornell grad? Medical school and achieving her dream career as a physician. 

Alicia Phillips '20Alicia’s Hilltop Faves

Her brother Nathan “I was lucky enough to go to school with my little brother Nathan this year as he decided to come to Cornell and play football! It was awesome to have my brother around to come to my volleyball games, hang out with me, study together, or get some food. We live so far away from our family in Colorado, so I am thankful to have had him at school with me.”

Favorite spot on campus “My favorite spot on campus is the bench by Ink Pond. I love sitting there when the weather is warmer to study or read and there are sometimes turtles or baby geese around.”

Favorite Hilltop eats “My favorite food served at the Hilltop is the grapefruit at breakfast! I don’t always like to wake up early, but when I make it there I am always so excited for the grapefruit.”