But the rejections were piling up. Out of nearly 100 applications, she got just one offer.
“Failure is a big part of science,” Gomes said. “Being able to fail and come back and say ‘Oh no, we’ve got to come up with a better idea and overcome that’ – that’s what research is about.”
The one offer? From the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
Gomes spent two summers as an undergraduate research assistant at Harvard, diving into projects investigating immune tolerance, and ways to engineer cells that create resistance to the HIV virus, or prevent rejection of transplanted organs.
In the summer of 2016, Hofstra biology/biochemistry major Paul Franco ’17 joined Gomes at the institute, which is among the world’s leading centers for stem cell science. He worked on research focusing on diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
“People ask us all the time – ‘how are you both here? Because it’s very competitive to get into these labs and a lot of Harvard kids don’t get in’ ,” Franco said one afternoon at the institute lab. “I try not to take it for granted – it’s incredible to be here, to interact with everybody, and make friends with people who are at the top of their field.”
Franco and Gomes live to do research, but it’s not their whole life.
“When you start doing experiments and you start getting results, you just can’t stop … and you just keep going and you don’t see time passing,” Gomes said, giddy as she described an average day at the institute lab.
Said Franco: “A lot of times Hannah and I are in the lab 14 hours a day. In part because it’s a transformative experience for us, and allows us to develop as scientists and people. But also because this work is extremely important to the scientific community and everyone as a whole.”
They embraced life outside the lab with equal enthusiasm.
They explored Cambridge and Boston, especially by bike, kayaked the Charles River, relaxed on the lawns of Harvard Yard, and browsed the aisles of the Harvard Coop bookstore.
Gomes, who had given up volleyball at Hofstra to concentrate on her studies, even had a chance to play competitively again – this time as part of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute’s summer league.
“You can dedicate your life to research and all your time to being in the lab and doing research,” Franco said, “but that doesn’t mean you stop living your life.”
In January 2017, Paul and Hannah got engaged to be married. In Spring 2018, they learned they’ll be returning to Boston for medical school – Hannah at Harvard and Paul at Boston University.