Combining Biology and Psychology – Ally Cefalu

“I’ve had biology and psychology circling me my whole life. My dad’s a physician, so I grew up reading his medical journals and looking at his old flashcards for fun. My grandpa was a psychiatrist, so I’ve always been interested in mental health. I have wanted to be a geneticist for a long time. Then I took an intro to psychology course my freshman year at Meredith because it was an Honors course, and I loved it. That’s when I realized I had to do both. 

I asked myself, ‘well, how do I combine them?’ because on the surface there are not a lot of crossovers, but when you think about it, there are a lot of biological elements to psychology. I was looking at genetic counseling for a while, which is a good crossover, and right now, I’m looking at some lab work for neurological diseases, so I’m trying to find that middle ground that lets me celebrate both.

While at Meredith, I’ve learned not to be afraid of doing hard things. In college, there are so many times where you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can do another semester of this,’ but you can. And then you make it through and you’re prepared for the next semester. I think constant challenges and overcoming them helps build resilience and gain skills that make you marketable after college.

I’ve been meeting with Dr. Aghoram and Dr. Andrus in the biology department for the past few months to help me navigate the job process and applications and offers. I also did my thesis in psychology, so I’ve gotten close with a lot of faculty there, and they helped me do some analyses beyond what you learn in research methods. The one-on-one mentorship helped push me above in the rest of my classes, and I can also put on my resume that I’ve done this advanced work.

After graduating from Meredith, I’m applying my passion for biology and mental health as an Analyst I at BioAgilytix in Durham. They’re a large molecule gene and cell therapy company. 

My dream job is to become a geriatric counselor, which is different from the lab job. I like working with older populations, and I get along well with older people. I enjoy learning about their lives and wisdom, so I hope to expose that generation to counseling and therapy. I’ll probably live in a rural area where it’s needed a little more, and I want to work with Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. And having that biology background and understanding what’s going on in their brain and being able to help them psychologically, I think, is essential. So that’s the end goal.”