Holding a brain during an autopsy or creating a full knee replacement is usually left to the professionals, but Stephen Patrick got to experience all of this and more as a Clemson student.

So what’s his secret?

Genetics professor Jim Morris, left, and Stephen Patrick work on a project in a genetics lab on Clemson's campus.

Genetics professor Jim Morris, left, and Stephen Patrick work on a project in the lab.
Image Credit: Clemson University

The answer is networking. While reflecting on his time at Clemson, Patrick emphasized the importance of connecting with professionals, explaining how a lot of his best experiences came from mentors and administrators. But as a young honors graduate with a B.S. in biochemistry, Patrick’s thoughts are on the future. He’s already been accepted to the Medical University of South Carolina and is making plans to head down to Charleston this August to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

“I’m pumped. I already have a place to live. I already have a roommate. I’ll be right in downtown Charleston,” Patrick grinned. “But I’m mostly excited about finally getting hands-on experience, getting to the point where I can work on skills that I want to use the rest of my life.”

In the meantime, Patrick’s passion for science and excellent communication skills landed him an on-campus research opportunity with Professor James Morris after his graduation in December 2015. He’s spent the last months screening drugs to fight against African Sleeping Sickness caused by protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei.

“I love it. Jim Morris and his wife, Meredith, make the research lab like a family unit. We eat lunch together at 11 o’clock every day, we go on hikes together, we have cookouts together; it’s been amazing working with them,” Patrick said.

That family atmosphere extends through every area of Clemson. And the Clemson Family is awash with alumni who are willing to help students and connect them to professional experiences. Sometimes, even the most random of events can lead to an internship opportunity.

“This is kind of a crazy Clemson story: I was at a football tailgate my sophomore year, and I met a guy who graduated from Clemson. He loves Clemson, and his daughter goes to Clemson. Anyway, he offered me an internship in ophthalmology over the summer. Not only did he give me a place to stay, but also he paid me to work and study the human eye for a month. It was incredible.”

When he was a student, Patrick also explored a lot of Clemson’s on-campus opportunities. In addition to getting involved in organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and unique Clemson traditions like playing the bells in Tillman Hall, Patrick served as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.

“I love talking to people, so when I came to Clemson I knew I wanted to talk to prospective students,” he said. “The ambassador program was a great way for me to meet other students as well as administrators in my college.”

Patrick is so committed to building relationships that he got involved with the pre-health honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED) his freshman year and eventually became a student director of the inaugural Tigers on Call event this past September. Tigers on Call: Making Connections in Medicine is an event designed to connect Clemson alumni physicians with undergraduates through breakout sessions and keynote speakers. Patrick explained that the excitement of the students and alumni is mutual: “The physicians love seeing themselves in the shoes of sophomores and juniors, and the undergraduates love getting involved in real medicine.”

The time and effort Patrick put into Tigers on Call and AED reflect his dedication to creating meaningful, professional relationships.

“Mentors are invaluable to me. If you can find someone to connect the dots, it can change your life,” he said.

As his work with Morris and his time at Clemson comes to a close, Patrick expects a bittersweet farewell to the University he’s so passionate about. But with Clemson as his past, Patrick is confident about the future. Wherever he goes, he knows that these hills — and these people — will always be waiting to welcome him home.

“What is it that they say? You spend the greatest four years here, and you spend the rest of your life trying to get back.”