Meet Amgen Scholars Alumni Vera Thornton

"It was validating for me to come into this environment, a top-tier research institution, and be able to participate and accomplish something."
Feb 22, 2017 7:00 AM ET

Tucson, Arizona

Host University: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Home University: University of Arizona

Amgen Scholar Year: 2016

Major: Neuroscience and Mathematics

Expected Graduation: 2017

Journey to Science

How did you become interested in science?

I joined the military after high school and served in the Air Force for six years. My interest in science came later, when, at 26, I started at the University of Arizona. My physiology and neuroscience courses were fascinating and that’s when I knew it caught me. I thought, “I really like this. I actually want to spend time learning about science.” I began working in a laboratory at the University of Arizona. Doing research gave me a sense of belonging and helped me make an identity for myself after coming back from two deployments.

Academic and Professional Ambitions

What’s the larger significance of your Amgen Scholars research? What’s your ultimate career goal?

My Amgen Scholars project related to how people process sensory stimuli, which may help us understand why the environment can be so overwhelming to some people with autism. A few years ago, I had worked in a group home that provided care for individuals with autism, so it was interesting to see the basic research side. My current career goal is to pursue an MD/PhD and do translational research. Participating in the Amgen Scholars Program made me believe that I’m on the right path.

Why did you apply to the Amgen Scholars Program?

I was looking for a second research experience, and one critical reason why I applied was that the program pays for our travel and lodging. As someone who works and really depends on the money I make from working, I absolutely could not have afforded to participate in the program if it wasn’t fully funded.

What aspects of the program did you enjoy most?

It was validating for me to come into this environment, a top-tier research institution, and be able to participate and accomplish something. It was incredible how welcoming my labmates and fellow Amgen Scholars were. Being surrounded by people of varied and interesting backgrounds, but with similar academic aspirations as mine, was new for me.

To learn more about the Amgen Scholars Program, please visit our website and check out the #AmgenScholars hashtag on Twitter. Visit and follow @AmgenFoundation to stay up to date with all STEM-related news from the Amgen Foundation.