Southeast Student Earns Doctoral Degree from Vanderbilt University, Now Self-Employed

Photo of Eliza at graduationSoutheast Missouri State University alumna Twila Mason of Bloomfield, Missouri, will be starting her own part-time crafting business, Twila’s Crafty Cat Studio.

Twila, who had her first child, Belly Ivy Mason, on Dec. 9, started establishing the business after she found out she was pregnant so she could work from home.

“One of my favorite hobbies is crafting, which is why I made the decision to turn that into a part-time business. I love coming up with new ideas and creating things. I also love making people happy when their ideas come to life with my custom craft services. Aside from that, I am also an avid reader. I have always had a love for books and reading, and I haven’t found a genre I don’t like,” she says.

Twila graduated with a Bachelor of Science with a double major in biology and chemistry from Southeast. After leaving Southeast, she pursued a doctoral degree in cell and developmental biology from Vanderbilt University, graduating in December 2013.

“I find biology and chemistry intriguing because they both hold the key to understanding how life exists and functions. I feel if you have a greater understanding of biological and chemical processes, you have a greater understanding of how the world works in every aspect,” Twila said.

While attending Vanderbilt University, she took classes in every aspect of biology and also did laboratory work and chose her thesis, consisting of a research project and a qualifying exam. Afterwrad she worked on courses within her chosen area, cell and developmental biology. She passed her exams and became a Ph.D. candidate by her second year.

She began researching for her thesis, which involved biological and biochemical experiments, such as western blots, cell culture, confocal microscopy, live-cell microscopy, radioactive experiments, cryo-electron microscopy, mouse models, mutagenesis, and sub-cloning, to name a few. She published two peer-reviewed scientific articles, and once she met all of the criteria set forth by the graduate school, her department, and her thesis committee, she prepared her dissertation and dissertation defense.

“I decided upon cell and developmental biology because I feel that this subject plays a roll in all of the other disciplines. You have to understand the normal cell biology in order to figure out what is abnormal during disease. In order to understand developmental abnormalities, you must first understand normal development. I feel that cell and developmental biology are the fundamental building blocks of knowledge in biological systems,” she says.

After she graduated with her doctoral degree, she accepted a position as an associate scientist with Diagnovus.

She had many responsibilities because Diagnovus was a fledgling company, and she joined shortly after they first began their lab. These included processing patient samples, completing all required paperwork associated with those samples, setting up the lab, developing new procedures, both experimental and managerial, establishing document management systems, and performing scientific tests on patient samples.

“I pursued a position with Diagnovus because I love their mission statement. They focus on the rare, orphan and underserved diseases that many other companies neglect. Every disease should be treated as important, regardless of how many tests will get ordered per month,” Twila says.

While working there, one of her most memorable experiences was performing a Next Generation (NextGen) Sequencing test.

“I had done some genetic work during my graduate program, but nothing as sophisticated at NextGen Sequencing. It is a very long, tedious process with many, many steps where something could go wrong. However, I was able to successfully get good, reliable data the first time I performed this technique. I was very happy with the outcome and proud of my accomplishment,” Twila says.

Twila says she has wanted to pursue her doctoral degree since she was in sixth grade, and that it was one of her personal goals. Southeast aided her in achieving her goal, enhanced her education, provided opportunities and helped her discover her abilities.
“Education is very important to me, and I feel that any time you learn something, you are gaining something of value. Even if you don’t see how something will every help you in life learning is never a waste of time, and you can never predict how knowledge will impact you.

“During my college career, I learned much more than just the facts presented in classes. I learned a great deal about myself, what I am capable of, what I ultimately want from life, and the legacy I want to leave,” Twila says.
Her experiences at Southeast helped prepare her for graduate studies and her position at Diagnovus. She selected Southeast for its competitive tuition and the availability of her major. It also provided her the ability to pursue as much “vital hands-on experiences” as she wanted.

“This proved to be invaluable in the graduate school application process. Every single graduate school program I applied to asked me for an interview. I was able to choose which school I wanted to attend,” Twila says.

Her oral communications class with Dr. Glenn Williams really helped her come out of her shell and develop confidence speaking in front of people, whom she says, “helped her tremendously in her life.”

Photo of Twila with her husband and childShe wants to take time to be with her new child and has chosen to pursue crafting, turning her hobby into a part time business. She sells off-the-shelf merchandise as well as offer custom craft services. She maintains a business Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TwilasCraftyCatStudio, as well as an online Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/TwilasCraftyCat.

She plans to stay up-to-date on scientific developments and eventually teach biology classes when she’s ready to return to a full-time position.

“I would love to inspire the next generation of students to reach for their goals and to foster a love of learning,” she says. “I was the first person in my family to attend a 4-year university and the first to pursue a graduate education. Since I began my higher education journey, several immediate and extended family members have begun pursuing degrees and furthering their education. I like to think that I had a little something to do with inspiring them. Pursue your dreams. You never know the impact you might have on others,” she added.

To Southeast students, she offers this advice.

“Follow your passions and your instincts, regardless of what others think or say. You are the one in control of your life, and you are the one that must live with your decisions. Some don’t agree with my taking time off to have a child, but it is what is right for me and my family. Don’t let any tell you that you cannot accomplish something for whatever reason. Never let anyone make you feel like you are less than because you didn’t attend an Ivy League school or because you are from a small town,” Twila says.