ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT | AUGUST 2014
KU major: Genetics, Class of 1997
Current occupation: Associate Professor at Michigan State University, Department of Microbiology
Research mentors while at KU: Eric Elsinghorst, Gunda Georg, and Jeff Johnson
Q: Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU:
A: I had a wonderful, diverse research experience as an undergrad at KU. I was able to research pathogenic Escherichia coli in the department of microbiology with Dr. Eric Elsinghorst. This research introduced me to molecular biology and bacterial pathogenesis, two central themes of my own current research group. I was also able to try out other fields, performing a summer research stint in organic chemistry purifying taxol in Dr. Gunda Georg's laboratory, and researching toxicology with Dr. Jeff Johnson at the KU Medical Center. This diversity exposed me to many different areas and cemented my interest in attending graduate school in microbiology.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: Before I started doing research, I was under the impression that most of the important information had already been discovered. In class, we read text books and learn about the fundamental systems of biology, but sometimes don't appreciate just how much is unknown. Once you start doing undergrad research and making your own novel findings that no one in human history has ever found, you begin to appreciate just how much we don't know! It is this quest for new knowledge that still drives me today as a faculty member at Michigan State University.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research?
A: I advise undergrads to get started early and have as many different experiences as possible. Research is incredibly rewarding, but it is not for everyone. You have to be very persistent to succeed, as everybody runs into many roadblocks in their research project. It is very important for undergraduate students thinking about attending graduate school to experience research to determine if this is the career path for them.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: Absolutely! I am incredibly grateful for the three great research mentors that I had at KU and the opportunities they gave me. Now with my own lab, one of my missions it to provide these same opportunities for the undergrads at MSU. To this end, I have always had a large, vibrant undergrad presence in my lab, with over 20 undergraduate researchers in my first five years.
Q: Many undergraduate researchers are making decisions about what to do after they graduate from KU. Having been in those shoes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Do you have any advice?
A: My main advice is to try out as many experiences as possible. This will help them choose which path suits them best. For some it may be graduate school, others medical school, and yet other business or law. Utilizing as many opportunities at KU as they can will help students find a career they are passionate about and love doing.