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Aliana Rao


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Senior Undergraduate completing a B.S. in Neuroscience with plans to matriculate to medical school in Fall 2022


University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

Bachelor's degree program
2018 - 2022
  • Majors:
    • Neurobiology and Neurosciences
  • Minors:
    • Religion/Religious Studies
    • Chemistry


  • Desired degree level:

    Doctoral degree program (PhD, MD, JD, etc.)

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

  • Planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:


    • Dream career goals:


    • Clinical Research Assistant

      2019 – Present5 years



    2014 – 20184 years


    • Neurobiology and Neurosciences

      University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurobiology — Student Researcher
      2019 – Present


    • Orchestra

      2009 – Present

    Public services

    • Volunteering

      FORGE — Volunteer Tutor
      2018 – Present

    Future Interests




    Focus Forward Scholarship
    Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. I wanted to help others, make them smile, and I loved the idea of science. That is what started me down this path, what caused my parents to buy me my first stethoscope at the age of five. When I was eight, I became one of the people who I had previously wanted to help. After a trip to Pakistan, I contracted an unknown bacterial infection that led to an undulant fever and incredible weakness. I went to the hospital weekly for blood work and left each time with a new stuffed bear, having collected one of each variety by the time of my diagnosis. I spent multiple weeks as an inpatient, the nurses knowing me by name and the doctors giving me pitiful looks, worried by the absence of color in my face while throwing around possible guesses such as cancer and lupus for my deteriorating condition. Yet, this experience led me to learn an enormous amount about the process through which doctors come to a diagnosis. It showed me that medicine was not just about finding the answer in the back of a textbook but sometimes hunting through an entire library catalog for a singular sentence. This experience also shed light on the patient-care aspect of medicine. The doctors would teach me about the machines in the room to alleviate my boredom. One taught me how to use a stethoscope, another explained the inner workings of a blood pressure cuff. They would let me look at my charts, allowing me to have my own white coat so I could pretend to be a physician and present my symptoms. They would explain their medical terminology in words that made sense to my third-grade mind, although they also spent time teaching me basic Latin roots for when there was not a simple explanation. No other third-grader cared that the root ‘cyto’ meant cell, but that did not stop me from proudly sharing it at Wednesday morning show-and-tell. These amazing and well-educated individuals provided me with emotional support during this time, keeping my parents and me from worrying too much about the future. They eventually diagnosed my condition as brucellosis and prescribed me the medication to cure me. They also instilled in me the idea that I wanted to pass along the kindness they showed me, to continue this chain of helping others from both a physical and emotional standpoint. As I navigated through high school and college, I kept this experience in the back of my mind. I strived to help others in the way they helped me during my time volunteering at the hospital. I utilized the skills of empathy that they taught me when I spoke with patients during my clinical experiences. Overall, I just wanted to continue to help others and further my passion for science. Now, as a senior in college who is on track to graduate with an honors degree in neuroscience and has multiple acceptances to medical school, that dream is just within reach. However, due to previous student loans, the idea of taking on even more to further my education is daunting. This scholarship would provide me with the opportunity of lessening my current loans before adding more to my plate.
    Bold Science Matters Scholarship
    Imagine engineering a biological molecule to fight cystic fibrosis or other diseases of the lungs. That is exactly what Dr. Graham Hatfull at the University of Pittsburgh did with a bacteriophage. He utilized the unique mechanism of these viruses and targeted an infection in a patient with cystic fibrosis who, up until that point, had not reacted positively to any other treatment. With the use of the bacteriophage, they targeted her mycobacterium infection and stopped it. This was instrumental in understanding phage therapy mechanisms as this patient was otherwise resistant to antibiotics. I am very excited by this discovery because as a freshman in college, I was given the opportunity to purify and sequence a bacteriophage. It was a G. terrae phage by the name of Teal and is instrumental for projects like this due to the idea of bacteriophage banks, a reservoir of thousands of novel phages. By making these, researchers are given a wide array of phages to use as targeted attack systems for future therapeutic strategies. It is crazy to think but one day, my phage could be helping someone, which makes this research quite interesting to me. Overall, the idea that research to which I contributed could help change the future of science makes me excited and pushes me to continue to contribute to the field.
    Nasir Abbas Rizvi Memorial Scholarship
    My parents are immigrants, who moved from Pakistan to the United States following my sister's death. While they came here with limited finances, they worked hard to provide me with a comfortable life. My father works at a bank while my mother stayed at home to raise me. Without both of their continuous support, I would never have made it as far as I have. I am currently a senior in college, pursuing an honors degree in neuroscience with minors in religious studies and chemistry. Additionally, I will be attending an allopathic medical school in the fall, for which I am currently trying to save money. Due to my parents being immigrants and realizing it was a privilege to have a roof over their heads, they urged me to give back to my community. During my youth, I spent weekends volunteering at the mosque and other local religious organizations, such as the church's soup kitchen. As I entered college, I gravitated towards serving the underprivileged in hopes of making positive contributions to their lives, as my parents emphasized throughout my youth. I worked with other immigrant communities because of my family's history, hoping to make their assimilations easier. One of the ways I accomplished this during college was volunteering to teach ESL to refugees. My first family was from Eritrea and had just come to the U.S. I worked with them for almost two years, building their English skills. Over time, we developed a method to make things easier. I would use props for nouns and act out movements for verbs. For example, I would hold up an apple and ask them what it was. Once they identified it for me in their native tongue of Tigrinya, I would repeat the word, followed by the English analog. In this way, they also taught me little bits of Tigrinya, some of which I still remember to this day. Through our time together, I saw their English skills improve, not only in speaking but also in writing and reading. I had become accustomed to their facial expressions, knowing the frowns from frustration to the smiles from finally understanding. I watched as they kept full conversations in English, got new jobs, and, eventually, did not need me anymore. That part was bittersweet. I was happy for them, but I had loved spending my Saturdays at their house, teaching them as they inevitably taught me too. As a future physician, I must be prepared to treat all of my patients to the best of my ability. Ultimately, even if I did not face the same challenges and barriers as someone, I can empathize with them and prioritize their care. I want to bridge cultural and socioeconomic gaps between myself and my future patients and colleagues, just as I have during my work with the underserved. I intend to treat my patients by taking every aspect of their lives and condition into consideration. I aim to continue working with those within underserved populations, providing them with empathic care and, hopefully, bringing positivity into their lives.
    Hobbies Matter
    During my junior year, I received an email to try a socially distanced group fitness class through my university. I decided to check it out, settling on cycling because it was something I had never tried. Little did I know when I walked into the gym's cycling studio that I had found my new outlet. Cycling quickly became a favorite pastime in my life, my mom joking that I would end up joining the Tour de France. I joined a local studio, going almost every day. The music makes me feel alive and the group mentality always improves my mood. One of the instructors has a signature phrase: “Strength is not a skill, but a mindset” and I often apply it in my day-to-day activities. To complete a task or check something off my to-do list, I do not necessarily have to be exceptional. Instead, I just need to believe in myself and strive to do the best that I can. Cycling taught me this and so much more. Personally, cycling is not just about burning calories; it allows me to do something for myself. Via cycling, I am taking time out of my day to improve my personal health, both mental and physical. I am allowing myself the opportunity to destress, to let go of some of the worries I constantly shoulder as a full-time college student. I am allotting myself forty-five minutes to be selfish, forty-five minutes to put myself first. Through this, I learned that I am the most helpful to other people when I take care of myself and provide myself with the tools to succeed. It is very noticeable that on days I cycle, my brain is clearer and I am more motivated. If anything, cycling serves as a form of energy, pushing me to do and be better. Overall, cycling invigorates my mind and drives me to feel better about myself. On a scientific level, it causes my brain to release endorphins, turning me into a more joyful person. Regardless of how my day is going, cycling always puts a positive spin on things. I like to think of the moment that I clip into my bike as one of the best parts of my days. Walking into my studio and seeing the lights dim and hearing the music start is exactly how I would describe my happy place. Because that is what cycling does for me, it permits me to have a better day, one without stress and worry.
    Lo Easton's “Wrong Answers Only” Scholarship
    1. I am a mediocre worker at best. I often procrastinate until right before the deadline, at which point I panic, down two energy drinks, and become a keyboard warrior. I submit things right before they're due, e.g. 11:58 pm. I am punctual, if being punctual means being at least five minutes late. But, hey, I would much rather walk in late with a latte than on time without one. 2. I hope to become a doctor in the future. I love the idea of working with people and furthering my love of science. I also love money. And fancy cars. And the prestigious title. Being a doctor would give me all of these, especially the prestigious title. I mean, being called "Doctor" is cooler than anything, except being Batman. Maybe becoming a superhero should be my career goal. 3. One time, I was running late to class. What was the reason, you may ask. Well, it was a snowy Tuesday morning and I simply had no urge to clean my car. Regardless, I eventually braced myself for the cold and cleared the snow. Then, I drove to class, making it just in time. But, I had not gotten my daily latte yet, so I decided to get that instead.