Three biochemistry undergraduate alumni reunite during medical career

Three UW–Madison Department of Biochemistry undergraduate alumni walked into the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and were instantly connected by their Badger pride. They might be far from their favorite spot, the Memorial Union Terrace, but that didn’t stop them from showing the rest of their medical team pictures of it — but “they just don’t do it justice,” they say.

The three alumni, all at different stages of their medical education, have met at UPMC as an attending, intern, and medical student. As fate would have it they all ended up on the same medical team at the same hospital.

Alyce Anderson graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree and majors in biochemistry and nutritional sciences. The native of Seymour, Wis. knew she wanted to come to UW–Madison to study biochemistry because it would help her pre-medicine track. She says it was great preparation for medical school and research.

Screenshot of a tweet announcing that three alumni are on the same medicine team, meeting by chance as attending, intern and medical student
The story that started with a tweet — Alyce Anderson shared the news with the department via Twitter. Follow the Department of Biochemistry @UWBiochem.

“I found medicine through my own personal experience as a patient when I was a middle schooler,” she says. “I decided then that I wanted to do research and help people clinically.”

After a gap year working at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center she joined the eight-year-long M.D/Ph.D. program at the University of Pittsburgh to pursue their clinical and translational science degree. With a Ph.D. in hand she’s now in her final year of medical school.

“My education in biochemistry and the undergraduate research I did prepared me for medical school, no doubt,” she adds. “The transition to the preclinical curriculum was seamless. I was well prepared for complex science, scientific reasoning, and clinical correlations. It has given me a framework of thought and experimentation that has transcended my training stages. Also, dive in and find a mentor to guide you. I still keep in contact with mine from UW–Madison and I’m so grateful they continue to cheer me on in this long journey.”

Brent Thiel, who graduated in 2008, and Anderson knew each other through the Undergraduate Biochemistry Student Organization (USBO), which is now a student chapter of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).

“I always enjoyed our picnics on the lawn near Biochemistry,” says Anderson, who also has her own blog on living simply. “I met a lot of people and have lasting friendships from my time with the department. Our favorite place on campus was the Terrace. I did enjoy walking Bascom Hill, too, though. There’s something about it that just screams UW. I loved going to sporting events and the UW–Madison energy. I miss walking State Street and of course the great Wisconsin cheese.”

Daniel Huettner graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree with a major in biochemistry and certificate in African Studies, which culminated in studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

“I grew up in Rochester, Minn, but many family members attended UW–Madison, including my brother and father,” he says. “Always knew it was in my blood to be a Badger. One of my favorite memories from the department was an extra course with now-Emeritus Professor Dave Nelson where we learned about the history behind biochemistry discoveries from the department.”

Photo of Daniel Huettner at Cape Town, South Africa
Daniel Huettner throws up his arms while taking in a view in Cape Town, South Africa during his time studying abroad as a student at UW–Madison.

Huettner worked in Madison for AmeriCorps for a year before attending medical school at Drexel University. He’s currently a second-year resident at UPMC in anesthesiology. He says his education in biochemistry came in handy for research on Parkinson’s disease he conducted in medical school and that he’s able to grasp concepts in anesthesiology more easily.

His list of things he misses about UW–Madison goes on and on: the Terrace, gamedays, the lakes, Lakeshore Path, State Street, concerts, and learning to sail with Hoofers. His time as an undergraduate researcher in the lab of biomolecular chemistry professor David Brow was pivotal in fostering his interest in research, he adds.

“Do research, learn, study, but also explore, play, adventure, and especially go to Badger games and study abroad,” he says. “If you are interested in medicine, you will find your way there one way or another. Don’t focus on the milestones and timeline too much. Invest yourself in projects but take time to adventure along the way.”