Cassandra Saucedo Balances Parenting and Graduate School to Start Career Path in Pharmacology

As a mother of five children, Cassandra Saucedo balances the responsibilities of parenting and graduate school with kindness, patience, and determination.

Saucedo started the University of California, Irvine Master of Science in Pharmacology (MSP) program in the fall of 2020. Now she is just a few weeks from earning her degree at the 2022 commencement.

What’s next? Saucedo plans to apply for a PhD program here at UCI, which would mark another chapter for her in Irvine. She’s truly an Anteater for life, having been born at the UCI Medical Center and now aiming to add the PhD and master’s to the Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology she earned at UCI.

In addition to being a parent of five children – ages 9, 11, 13, 16, and 17 – Saucedo also works and continues research in the lab of Amal Alachkar, PhD.

Cassandra Saucedo and her family

“Thankfully, the MSP program is very flexible for parents and people working full-time,” she says. “The pandemic brought a unique challenge with five different grade levels now at home, so I adjusted by setting up a classroom at home for the kids. I was at the front of the room working on my MSP assignments where I could also help them if they needed me.”

Within the MSP program, students learn about the fundamental principles of pharmacology, the mechanisms of drug action, current topics in drug discovery, and skills needed for drug research.

“I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go into medicine or go the PhD route,” Saucedo says. “I thought that joining the master’s program could provide me with a deeper understanding of research and help make that decision, which it actually did.”

Before entering the MSP program, Saucedo was fascinated with neuropharmacology, which was one of her favorite classes during her undergraduate program in neurobiology at UCI. Now she can research the topic on a deeper level with MSP program faculty such as Alachkar and Olivier Civelli, PhD.

“The MSP program has taken me back to the parts of science that I really like – learning about endogenous neurotransmitters and learning how the imbalances affect disease,” Saucedo says. “The opportunities in this program have made me realize that I’m more interested in pursuing a PhD so that I can tackle the disease from this perspective rather than going into healthcare.”

When asked about Saucedo’s personal and career development within the MSP program, Alachkar said: “Cassandra has displayed limitless motivation, hard work, and commitment. She always impresses me with her insightful thinking, reflected in her critical analysis of scientific papers, online discussions, and responses to her peers. Nothing could stop her from pursuing her dreams.”

The journey to this point in Saucedo’s academic career hasn’t been easy. During her time at Santa Ana College, she participated in programs such as the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), and ULink, which helped lead her to UCI. While at UCI, she participated in transfer programs such as Santa Ana Scholars Program, SOAR, and CAMP.

But beyond the programs and resources, the most critical factor in Saucedo’s success has been her determination.

“I’ve been told the things that I can’t accomplish,” she says. “Starting with the first counselor I met with at community college, she told me how I couldn’t do a full course load and that it would be too much. I’ve heard those obstacles quite a bit going through my academic career, all of the things I can’t do. To me, they represented a challenge. I’ve gotten this far; I think I can make it.”

In sharing advice with other parents going to school: “It’s hard work. It’s not easy. It can feel intimidating at times but do what parents do best: adjust. Anything worth doing is going to be hard work. But the ability to adjust to changes in life is one advantage we have.”

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