Tiffany Brucker ’12 first considered UMass Amherst because she loved the marching band. She knew about it because she’d been the drum major her senior year in high school in Torrington, Connecticut. But when she came for her campus tour, she quickly realized she could also get a great science education here. A first-generation college student, Tiffany played tenor sax (she was section leader), majored in chemistry (with a minor in psychology) and turned her undergraduate experience into a career as a research and design scientist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston.
“I’ve always been curious about everything,” Tiffany says. “Always asking questions as a kid, what's this made of, how does the world work?” While her parents hadn’t gone to college, her grandmother had; she had majored in chemistry and worked on fiberoptics. Tiffany had loved chemistry in high school, so she decided to go for it at UMass Amherst.
She’s very thankful she chose a science path, she says. “It’s so difficult after graduation to support yourself and I needed to make a decent income. The program here is extremely difficult. It taught me hard work and discipline. It pushed me to my limit—and that's a good thing. It pushed me to my limit and how to go beyond my limit and push again.”
While her parents were very supportive, they didn’t always know how to advise their daughter, so it was particularly helpful that the campus was incredibly supportive, Tiffany says. “I met a lot of people. My professors were really supportive, and Mary Ellen Liseno in Career Services was fantastic. She really pushed the internships. No one holds your hand here but there’s a lot of opportunity. You have to go after it, but people here will help you.”
In fact she had two internships in the summers after her sophomore and junior years, both through UMass Amherst contacts—that helped her focus on her next steps. She did research and synthetic drug product development, “two parts of the piece that opened me up to a lot of avenues I could go down.” Her work paid off: Tiffany was honored by being chosen the department’s student speaker at the 2012 Senior Celebration, hosted by the College of Natural Sciences.
Today she works as a scientific associate in research and development Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston. Her main focus has been a cystic fibrosis product that just went on the market. “I work on the drug product side,” she says. “I helped with the testing of this new drug. I love it! It's awesome. I love being in the lab. It’s very integrated, very hands on. I like the bigger picture. I like that I'm helping people. I’m not in direct care, I’m behind the scenes, which I really enjoy.”
“UMass Amherst taught me to open my mind up to try new things and just go for it,” she says. “That’s my company’s value as well: Fearless pursuit of excellence. Science is one of the driving factors in our country. You can go into academia but there’s other options as a science major—compliance, law, medicine—there’s a lot of traditional routes but a lot of avenues you can take you might not even think of. If you’re looking for a land of opportunity, come to UMass Amherst. It gave me the foundational tools to go for it.”