ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT | SEPTEMBER 2018
KU major: Cell Biology, Class of 2014
Current occupation: M.D./Ph.D. Student
Research mentor while at KU: Justin Blumenstiel, Ph.D.
Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU:
A: I spent much of my time outside of class working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the lab of Dr. Justin Blumenstiel. I performed lab maintenance duties, assisted with ongoing research projects, and carried out an independent project. Thanks to his guidance, my efforts contributed to my first peer-reviewed publication. Furthermore, my independent work culminated into an honors thesis, two oral presentations of the project, and awards of Departmental Honors in Biology and a certification in the Research Experience Program. This research was supported in part by a scholarship from the Center for Undergraduate Research.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: I think the most important thing I took away from my undergraduate research experience is passion. Working in Dr. Blumenstiel’s lab was my first significant encounter with hypothesis-driven research and proved to be a monumental influence to my comprehension of the scientific process and to my overall career objective. Before I was granted this position, I did not fully understand what it meant to be a scientist or what the process of scientific investigation truly entailed. The devotion I felt to the overall success of his laboratory and the exhilarating curiosity I felt towards our research questions had such a powerful impact on me that I began to feel compelled to find a way to combine my newfound passion for scientific inquiry with my lifelong dream of becoming a physician. As a result, I am now pursuing a career in which I can maintain my scientific focus and integrate it into my practice of medicine through the M.D./Ph.D. Program.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: The importance of choosing a mentor cannot be understated. Your research, and your life, will be so much better if you have a great mentor with whom you work well. There are many factors to consider, including: how much independence you want, how accessible you'd like your mentor to be, the subject and quality of their work, the availability of networking opportunities, the relationships with others who work in the lab, and countless others. Do a little research and decide what factors are important to you and what kind of mentor you think would help you thrive.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: As I'm currently working on my Ph.D., I of course use the technical skills that I gained during my undergraduate research every single day. Even during my medical school years, my experience gave me a solid foundation in the basic sciences that was crucial for my academic success and extremely helpful for my medical licensing boards examination.
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: I've remained in Academia and so I wish I had known more back then about the factors that define one's success in scientific research. There are crucial skills such as being able to read a scientific paper or being able to write a grant application that take years to refine. I was a first-generation college student, so I didn't even know at the time that they were necessary job skills. I'd advise current undergraduates to practice these skills as much as possible! I suggest trying to write a grant or scholarship application at least once per year, and don't be afraid to ask your mentor for help.