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Raisa Tikhtman: Finding clarity through international internships

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In 2014, Raisa Tikhtman received one of ODK’s highest national student honors, National Leader of the Year for Campus and Community Service.

“In order to see the world, you must first open your eyes.”

Raisa Tikhtman ’14 attended Lexington’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts and continues to nurture a love of dance and the French language. However, she has her sights set on a career in medicine or research. 

“The balance between natural science and a humanities-based education is really important to me,” says Tikhtman, a double major in French language and literature and chemistry (biochemistry track). “It’s been essential to my mental stability as a student,” she laughs, “and it’s forced me to think in different ways.”

Raisa in labIn fact, French became her passport to study nanotechnology in France and traditional medicine in Madagascar. And the study abroad experience helped her refine her interests and clarify her future direction.

In the summer of her sophomore year, Tikhtman was one of two French-speaking students selected by Duke University’s Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology for a summer research program at the Center for Research and Education in Environmental Geosciences in Aix-en-Provence. The paid internship included a plane ticket and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

In the French lab, she studied the sedimentation properties of cerium oxide nanoparticles. It was the natural outgrowth of her studies at Transylvania in environmental science, Tikhtman explains: “[It’s important to understand] how the materials we produce and the products around us affect our health and the survival of ecosystems. Nanoparticles are in most of the products we consume or purchase. There’s not a clear understanding of how they affect organisms.”

The internship helped her gain a better sense of what she wanted to do. “I realized that I wanted a biological emphasis. Medicine, and/or biomedical research, would be a better fit for me.”

She had other support during this period of self-discovery, particularly from the Transylvania faculty. “They help you come to better terms with what your interests are and how you relate to the world,” said Tikhtman.

By the summer of her junior year, she was intent on finding answers to pressing questions. She applied to the School for International Training in Madagascar because, she explained, “I was looking for answers to questions about myself that nothing else seemed to satisfy, especially those regarding post-graduate degree intentions and my dependence on a first-world lifestyle.”

Raisa with lemurImmersion into another culture was a powerful experience. On an academic level, while studying traditional Malagasy medicine as well as healthcare systems in general, she was introduced to “different ways of thinking about medicine, not just as an obligation to individual health, but to the population’s health.”

“The focus was how allopathic (western) medicine and Malagasy (traditional) medicine could be better integrated to benefit the health of the people, as well as the economy and ecological sustainability.” While living with her host families, she recognized the “waste our society propagates” and the more sustainable daily practices of the so-called underdeveloped world.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Tikhtman is applying to medical school and will return to France to intern in a hospital in Falaise, Normandy. In the fall of 2014, she will assume a one-year biochemistry/neuroscience/molecular biology research job in the lab of Dr. Matthew Gentry at the University of Kentucky. Ultimately, she intends to enter a strong dual M.D. and master’s in public health program or possibly pursue a Ph.D. 

Tikhtman’s eyes are wide open, and the world will be a better place because of it.

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