Meet the subject of today’s CU Women in STEM profile, Francesca Garofalo, who’s shown here doing tissue culture

Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Francesca (Frankie) Garofalo (CC ’18), whose interests lie in academic medicine and the evolutionary biology of the human species!

Major: Biology with a concentration in the evolutionary biology of the human species (EBHS)

What subjects are you interested in? Most topics within biology. I’m interested in how human populations differ and why they became that way. Bioarchaeology is also really interesting. Another topic that interests me is medicine in society, like biomedical ethics and pharmaceutical politics.

How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? I became interested in biology and medicine when my dad showed my his medical anatomy books as a child. I thought it was so cool that someone could ‘fix’ babies and women (he is an obstetrician and gynecologist.)

Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: Hard to choose! I first did research in high school on ovarian cancer, and from there I knew I wanted to do both research and medicine in my life. It was a great experience to learn so much so young and to also form a strong relationship with a post-doctoral researcher, my mentor. She is still a mentor to me today. In my first two years at Columbia, I did research on campus, and it was more ‘basic’ biology on an important cancer protein called p53. I learned a lot about myself then – about my interpersonal communication style, what I want in a career, and more. I decided definitely on the MD (as opposed to MD/PhD) track. Finally, I have had a great time this year interning at a public health firm helping out on a large research study and doing my own secondary research. I’m thankful I’ve been able to learn about the larger scope of medicine and about the crosstalk between medicine and public health.

What are your career goals? Medicine! I am going to medical school shortly after graduation. I am not totally sure what kind of physician I would like to be, but I know at some point I want to contribute to academia in some way, whether that is as a leading scientist or as a medical advisor to research studies.

Favorite science building on campus? None? NoCo is the nicest though.

Favorite scientist? Dr. Vivien Thomas. He was a black medical researcher who discovered a surgical cure for ‘blue baby syndrome’ in Baltimore in the 1940s. Because of the racism at the time, he wasn’t given much credit for his work until much later – and had to instruct his superior on how to do the surgery. There is a documentary about him. I think it is an inspiring story of perseverance and passion in spite of significant personal adversity.

What do you do BESIDES science? I run a lot, cook and eat good food, hang with friends and family. Looking forward to spending a lot of time this summer at the beach, on my parent’s boat, kayaking, and doing photography.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a STEM major? Be patient – the intro courses are large, impersonal, and hard. But when you get to the upper level classes, it is much more interesting and rewarding knowing that you’ve built up this knowledge over the years. Work out a way of studying that works for you, because it will probably be different from your friends. Once you figure it out, things will get a bit easier. And don’t read the textbooks. Just do the problems in them.

Favorite classes/professors at Columbia? Dr. Jill Shapiro is the best professor I’ve had at Columbia. She teaches Human Origins and Evolution (intro class to EBHS) and several other courses in the major. Every lecture was exciting – if you want a lecture where you aren’t going to fall asleep, take the class, even if you’re not interested in the subject. Her enthusiasm is contagious. Dr. Shapiro takes the time to learn each student’s name and actually teach the material really well.

We hope you enjoyed this column! If you know of any awesome women in STEM at Columbia whom you think would be a great subject for this column, please email us at