School quiz show inspires alumna’s career in toxicology

Danielle Mackowsky smiles for a photo.By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Starting Monday, Danielle Mackowsky (M.S.’14/H&S), technical marketing specialist at United Chemical Technologies, takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram account. She will post from the annual meeting of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Why did you choose VCU for your master’s degree?

VCU is the one of the only universities in the nation to have its own forensic science department. Other universities house their forensic science students and classes under the umbrella of another department, but knowing that VCU committed a whole department, and the resources that come with it, to this program spoke volumes to me. In addition, the scholarship opportunities that VCU offers forensic science graduate students is unparalleled.

How did you get interested in biology and, by extension, toxicology?

I am originally from Syracuse, New York, and there was a program for middle school students in the area called the Drug Quiz Show. It was a team competition where students answered questions about drugs, alcohol and tobacco. My team advanced quite far, and a judge of the competition encouraged me to consider a career in pharmacy.

When I did some digging and realized that there was a field that was devoted to the study of the same classes of compounds that I had excelled at learning about for the show, I knew I wanted to be a forensic toxicologist.

How has VCU made an impact your career path?

VCU completely helped me set my career path. The network of alumni that VCU has in the field of forensic toxicology is unmatched. Whenever I have needed professional advice, I know I can count on one of the many mentors that I am fortunate to have from my graduate school career. I’m extremely proud to be a graduate of VCU, and I truly believe the career preparation that they provide helps to set graduates apart when on the job hunt and for opportunities beyond the lab.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working as a technical marketing specialist for my company, so I’m currently away from the bench. Before making this job transition, I was involved in optimizing the detection of various designer fentanyl analogs in urine. I also recently studied identifying potential inferences that may occur with the use of common enzymes that are needed for the detection of certain classes of drugs when conducting urine drug testing.

Do you have any advice for students wanting to break into the research field?

To get started in the research field make sure that you get to know all of your professors and your advisers. Do not be timid in asking if they have space in their laboratories for you to work in; opportunities will not necessarily fall on your lap.

Showing your interest in their projects and overall initiative to be a self-starter is huge. Even if a professor you have in class does not have space for you, they could very well be able to point you in the right direction of another group on campus that is even better suited for your skill set and overall interests.

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