Goldwater Scholar Sets Sights on Medical and Doctoral Degrees

Giona Kleinberg, E’23, is curious, ambitious, and passionate about research, all qualities reflected in—and nurtured by—his experience in Northeastern’s College of Engineering. Last year, he earned a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, opening new opportunities for him to apply his aptitude and enthusiasm for data analysis to the world of biomedical research. This year, as he prepares to graduate with a combined major in bioengineering and biochemistry, and a minor in data science, he is already laying plans for both a medical degree and a PhD.

A Passion for Research

Starting in his freshman year, Kleinberg immersed himself in research in the lab of Sandra Shefelbine, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, jointly appointed in bioengineering. There, he drew on his knowledge of data science to create image processing solutions for bioengineering lab applications. During his time in Shefelbine’s lab, he was the first author on a paper comparing novel image processing pipelines created for multiple deep learning algorithms; an image from his analysis appeared on the cover of the journal Cells & Development. Since then, he has published three other papers, with five more accepted or under review.

In 2021, Kleinberg held a co-op position as a research assistant at Harvard Medical School’s Sabatini Lab, which focuses on the structure and function of brain synapses and the relationship between synapse function and animal behavior. There, he investigated hyperthyroidism and mania using mice, with a potential application for bipolar disorder. He found the experience so rewarding that he continued to work there part-time once the co-op ended, eventually signing on for a second co-op in the lab. Though that job has now ended as well, he has landed a full-time position in the lab, where he plans to work for a year while he applies to MD and PhD programs.

In addition to his research, Kleinberg advances his career aspirations by working as a medical scribe in the emergency department of Massachusetts General Hospital, recording patient symptoms, lab and physical exam results, imaging, differential diagnoses, and medical decision-making. He also shadows physicians to learn more about the profession.

Earning Prestigious Recognition

Kleinberg has been rewarded repeatedly for his talents, earning Northeastern’s PEAK Experience Shout-it-Out and Trail-Blazer Awards in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Last year, he also received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, one of the nation’s most prestigious merit-based awards for undergraduate students planning to pursue research careers in natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics—an achievement he’s justifiably proud of.

“It feels like the culmination of a lot of hard work from myself and my fantastic mentors,” he says. “It’s really good to be recognized for the long hours I’ve been putting in the last few years.”

Kleinberg notes that achieving a distinction like the Goldwater Scholarship can signify talent in a way that opens more academic and professional opportunities. He offers the example of the Waller Institute, a nonprofit group that enlists pre-med students worldwide to write literature reviews and conduct meta-analyses under the guidance of researchers and physicians from universities across the United States. Since winning the Goldwater award, he has risen from research intern to research team lead, and last August took over as president of the organization. His responsibilities in this new role include conceiving and directing new research, hiring for all positions, and spearheading organizational changes.

A Drive to Help Others

Kleinberg is grateful for the knowledge and experience he’s gained during his time at Northeastern, as well as the valuable connections he’s made. He is also keenly aware of the help he’s received from others along the way. “It’s awesome having such a big support system here,” he says. “My mentors are a standout experience.”

Even with a schedule as full as his, Kleinberg makes time to give back to the community. Since 2021, he has volunteered with the Crisis Text Line, providing mental health support and crisis intervention using an electronic platform. He also works as a tutor, helping students in a wide range of challenging subjects, including high school math through calculus, AP biology, and chemistry.

“I’d like to put myself in a position where I can mentor others,” he says of his future career path. “When I think of my end goal, it would probably be in a lab, helping PhD students push their own projects. In that way, my contributions could extend past what I can do on my own.”

Related Faculty: Sandra Shefelbine

Related Departments:Bioengineering