From the time of high school graduation to his current position, Patrick Rydzak, Ph.D., could not have imagined the twists and turns his career path would take. He has had some stellar accomplishments and a ton of lessons learned, but one of the biggest impacts to his career was the time he spent in the FBI Visiting Scientist Program (VSP).
Rydzak graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2019 with a Ph.D. in plant pathology, which focuses on the microorganisms that cause disease in plants and is critical to the success of modern agriculture. To go from studying plants to performing research at the FBI Laboratory was a big leap in his journey, and it started with Rydzak’s completion of the FBI’s Honor Intern program. While with the program, Rydzak was selected to participate in research in the Research Support Unit (RSU) at the FBI Laboratory. During this time, he met some of the current members of the VSP and learned about the projects those participants got to experience with FBI biologists and chemists.
“After a summer learning how research was performed while with the RSU, I knew that I would love to come back and continue my work at the FBI Lab,” Rydzak said. In August 2019, he learned he would get that opportunity. “After successfully defending my dissertation and graduating with my Ph.D., I applied for and was accepted to the Visiting Scientist Program.”
The FBI Visiting Scientist Program provides valuable research and training opportunities to college students, graduate students, and faculty in one of the world’s largest crime labs. Managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the FBI, the program serves to connect participants with resources to advance their studies.
During his time with the program, Rydzak got to participate in a variety of research projects, which included validating advanced sequencing technologies for use in DNA fingerprinting applications. In fact, for Rydzak, in the VSP program, no two days were the same. “One of the greatest benefits of being a researcher is that there is no such thing as a typical day,” Rydzak said. “This applies to all research, but doubly when working with the FBI. Depending on the day, I could be in the lab analyzing samples or behind the computer drafting papers and reports. The benefit to this is that if you successfully balance these things, it allows for flexibility in your day to day.”
While building day-to-day research skills is an important aspect of the VSP, the program is also designed to leave lasting impacts that participants can take on to their future endeavors. This is something that Rydzak is most thankful for.
“The VSP provided me the opportunity to learn how to truly run a research program. Time after time, I went through the multiple important stages of performing research at the federal level,” Rydzak said. “This experience benefited me in several ways, but the best thing was that it developed my confidence. When in a conversation with the Unit Chief of RSU, he told me that the FBI Lab is one of the most challenging and rewarding environments in which to conduct research, and without a doubt, he was correct. After my time in the VSP, I feel prepared to handle research no matter where I end up.”
After finishing the Visiting Scientist Program in May 2022, Rydzak accepted a position at Johnson Space Center (JSC) at NASA in Houston, Texas. He is currently working as part of the Microbiology Team under what is known as the Human Health and Performance Center (HHPC). The mission of the HHPC is to support the crew members on board the International Space Station by monitoring the health of the crew, as well as the health and safety of the spaceflight environment.
No matter where life’s journeys take him, Rydzak will lean on the research lessons he learned during his time with the FBI Visiting Scientist Program as the foundation of a strong future he is building for himself in the sciences.
The FBI Visiting Scientist Program, managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education, is an educational and training program designed to connect participants with unique resources at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory. The FBI Laboratory is one of the largest and most comprehensive crime labs in the world.