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Jacob Layer, Biology, Chemistry, Alumni

Perseverance in lab pays off as alumnus joins prestigious Harvard PhD program

Jacob Layer | 2012 Alumnus, B.S. Chemistry, Ph.D. Student Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Harvard University | Biology Department, Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology The old adage of things happening for a reason rings especially true for Jacob Layer, a recent graduate of the School of Science at IUPUI.

At age 12, the Logansport, Ind., native survived a scare with leukemia, which he credits for leading him toward a career in medicine and science. He majored in biology and chemistry at IUPUI and earned several awards and scholarships along the way as a top student.

Layer is pursuing his Ph.D. at the prestigious Biological and Biomedical Science Program at Harvard University, which is ranked second by U.S. News & World Report for graduate programs in the biological sciences. He hopes to conduct cancer research and someday find answers to the questions that first drove him to volunteer in a lab as a sophomore in the School of Science.

“I originally thought I would go to medical school, but when I started in a research lab I changed my mind,” said Layer, who recently was honored with the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award from the Department of Biology at IUPUI.

Layer has spent much of the past three years looking at microscopic fungi in the lab of Dr. Martin Bard, professor of biology. Their research sought to better understand how certain fungi become resistant to proteins, with the goal being to identify new targets for antifungal drugs. Layer said the experience “spoke to me a little bit.”

“Research was such a big part of my time at IUPUI, and it’s been a great learning experience,” he said. “It’s made me much more accustomed to failure. I’ve never experienced more failure than I did in that lab, but it proved to me there is sweetness in success.” 

A mutation first examined three years earlier finally was identified just before finals week of his last semester at IUPUI, a fitting sendoff for graduation.  

Layer said he would take the many benefits of his research and academic experiences with him to Harvard. He declined offers at Yale University and a few other top research facilities.

“I wouldn't be going to Harvard without the people who taught me here,” said Layer, who referred to Bard as his “scientific father.” 

“If I had gone to a larger school, I wouldn’t have gotten the education I’ve gotten here,” he added. “The faculty is really open and willing to involve undergraduates in their labs; I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Bard said of Layer: “He possesses the essential attributes required to be a scientist, precision, patience and, most importantly, complete honesty and integrity regarding experimental results.”

Layer has requested to be involved in some sort of cancer research at Harvard, although his research assignment has not been finalized. He said he is eager to get started and expects to find a job in industry or academia after he completes his doctoral degree in six to eight years.

When not in the lab or studying, Layer said he enjoys the quiet solitude of long-distance bicycling. His longest trip has been more than 70 miles.

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