A Passion for Science

Wivyan Franklin
Research and Development Supervisor
CCC, 2013

Wivyan Franklin’s passion for science is personal.

“My brother was 16 years old when he was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a juvenile form of it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I should be a scientist to research the disease and find a cure for him.’”

Franklin’s first step was earning a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from President Antônio Carlos University in Brazil. The next logical step was medical school. However, becoming a physician in Brazil is difficult.

“You either have to compete with a lot of people to go into a federal university, where you don’t pay, or go to a private university, which is very expensive,” Franklin said.

It was shortly thereafter that Franklin decided to join her family in the United States and finish her studies. “I thought, ‘I just need to learn English. I earned my diploma, and I’m ready to work.’ But it wasn’t like that. I never thought I’d have to do another university, or another course, or go for another diploma.”

That’s when she started looking for a program similar to the one she completed in Brazil. She was elated to find that Palm Beach State College offered options in the biotechnology field but didn’t know which one to pursue.

It was then that Franklin met with Dr. Libby Handel, former director of biotechnology programs at Palm Beach State College and current director of business development at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, who advised her to enroll in the college credit certificate program since she already had a bachelor’s degree.

“Dr. Handel’s advice was that whatever (credits and certifications) had lapsed from Brazil, I could take at PBSC,” said Franklin. “It made it much faster for me to go into the workplace.”

Although she had an undergraduate degree in biotechnology, Franklin says the program at PBSC was vastly different than the program in Brazil. There, it was mostly theory and not much practice, she said. The program at PBSC provided more hands-on experience and allowed her to practice real procedures and what she would do in a laboratory setting.

Franklin credits Dr. Becky Mercer, director of PBSC’s biotechnology programs, and Dr. Alexandra Gorgevska, department chair for natural science and biotechnology, for her success in the program. “I didn’t have professors, I had mentors. They all made a huge impact on my career. What I am right now is because of them.”

The admiration is mutual. “She took her time making sure she understood the material well,” Gorgevska recalled. “She was a joy to have as a student in my classes, and I always looked forward to working with her on lab projects.”

Franklin says that one of the best parts of the program was the many opportunities she had to attend conferences and seminars throughout Florida. “We were not just in class, but we were out there networking and meeting real scientists. That was great.” She also valued the mandatory internship at the end of her program.

For three months Franklin interned at Cytonics, a Jupiter-based research and development company that develops molecular diagnostic and therapeutic products for chronic musculoskeletal pain and other diseases. Upon completion of the internship and graduation from the PBSC college credit certificate program in biotechnology, Franklin was offered an associate scientist position with Cytonics. That was the springboard for Franklin’s career in the U.S.

Now a research and development supervisor at Cell Science Systems Corporation in Deerfield Beach, Franklin is working with the company as it develops and performs laboratory testing in immunology and cell biology, supporting the personalized treatment and prevention of chronic disease.  She is amazed at how fast her career has taken off.

“It feels like I’m going at a really fast pace,” she said. “Just two to three years ago, I was a research assistant, and now I’m a research and development supervisor. Every accomplishment is a big thing for me.”

Looking ahead, there is much more Franklin wants to do with her education and experience in biotechnology. Her ultimate goal: working with stem cells.

“Right now, that kind of research looks very promising,” she says, referring to the use of stem cells in finding a treatment — or cure — for macular degeneration, the disease that will eventually rob her brother of his sight. “One of the approaches for the disease is to replace damaged cells in the eyes with those from stem cells.”

Franklin’s best career advice is to never give up. “I’ve learned that we can’t let obstacles keep us from getting where we want to be.” She also says networking is the key to great jobs after graduation.

“Seminars, conferences – put yourself out there so people know you,” she advises. “Network as much as you can. It should be mandatory.”