Though Joycelynn Acheampong, VG21 always had an interest in health and the sciences, she knew she found her calling in high school, when she conducted collegiate-level research at the Virginia Governor’s School @ Innovation Park in Manassas, Virginia.
She grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, and earned a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from Virginia Tech in 2017, with two minors in biology and in interdisciplinary engineering and science. As an undergrad, she researched affordable solutions for diagnosing tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, and coliform bacteria, working alongside experts across the engineering and medical fields.
After graduating, Acheampong spent three years as a biologist and analyst in biodefense at MRIGlobal, a contract research institution. She was fascinated by the laboratory work on nucleic acid and protein processing and analysis, and the exposure to new technologies, such as the Oxford Nanopore sequencer, a sequencing instrument small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. The experience also ignited her interest in infectious diseases.
“I wanted to share the resources and answers found in the lab with everyday people, shifting more into global health,” Acheampong recalls. “I was interested in Cummings School because of the focus on infectious disease and global health. I joined the program and took the risk of not working for a year. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
During the intensive one-year Master of Science in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, she developed strong relationships with her professors and cohort of classmates.
Two of her classmates’ journal club presentations on the Ebola virus inspired her summer research proposal and introduced Acheampong to her future employer. Acheampong’s proposal focused on Ebola relapse cases, in which the disease spreads from an individual who previously contracted and recovered from it.
“My family is from Ghana,” she explains. “I have a deep passion for Africa and low-income communities that have limited access to resources and suffer the most from infectious diseases.”
Learning about the implementation of public health strategies in Cummings School’s Case Studies in Global Health course helped set her career plans. “The course solidified that I want to be responsible for both—conducting the science and translating its application for people who need it most,” she states.
After graduating last August, Acheampong accepted a position as a senior research associate in assay development at Sherlock Biosciences, a diagnostics company known for its CRISPR technologies. She’s working on new technologies and joins two other MS-IDGH alumni there.
“It’s challenging work, new and exciting,” she says. “Working in diagnostics was a dream of mine, especially here in Boston, in the heart of biotech.”
Acheampong explains how COVID-19 has impacted her field, “The pandemic opened the door to what we do. The world can see that science changes rapidly. Witnessing how the pandemic has played out exposed so much that we can do and improve upon, such as communicating science more clearly. The way that we approach research and technology is shifting.”
She experiences firsthand new technologies changing the field, such as using artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies to predict information that lab testing can then subsequently confirm or disprove.
Eventually, Acheampong plans to pursue her PhD in infectious disease, possibly related to epidemiology, emerging infectious diseases, and outbreak responses.
“The [MS-IDGH] program gave me the science to add to my years of experience and allowed me to be where I am now.”