ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT | WINTER 2016
KU major: Chemistry, class of 2015
Current occupation: PhD Student at the University of Cambridge
Research mentors while at KU: Dr. Michael Johnson and Professor Mikhail Barybin
Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU: During my undergraduate time at KU, I worked in Dr. Michael Johnson's research group on a project that sought to understand Post-Chemotherapy Cognitive Impairment. About one-third of patients who receive chemotherapy treatment experience PCCI, which usually manifests itself through difficulties in complex problem solving, memory, and motor function. We employed electrochemical techniques to determine how neurotransmission was altered in brain slices of rats treated with a strong, clinically relevant chemotherapeutic. Our work helped elucidate how chemotherapy changes the brain's intrinsic messenger systems, but more investigations are still needed to fully characterize the mechanism of PCCI.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: Undergraduate research forced me to learn or develop many key skills, including time management, the ability to collaborate, verbal and written communication and presentation skills, and more. The most important thing I learned was that I have a passion for science. The only way to find out if a career in science or academia based upon research is right for any individual is to give it a go. It may seem intimidating or overwhelming, but people like my supervisor, Dr. Johnson, or my mentor, Professor Barybin, will always be around to help in any way possible.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: Talk to someone who is an expert in a topic that you want to learn more about. KU has really great researchers, mentors, and professors who know an incredible amount about their disciplines. Take advantage of their expertise, and don't be afraid to sound foolish or make mistakes. It happens quite a lot in life, anyway.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: As a graduate student, not much has changed from my undergraduate research days (aside from the research topic and country of residence). All of the skills learned from undergraduate research translate directly, like working well with others, figuring out ways to approach a challenging question, and time management. These skills definitely translate to any career.
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: The stress of figuring out what to do after graduation can be really overwhelming. My advice would be to discuss your options with unbiased mentors and personally reflect on what you want out of a profession. Ultimately, you just need to find a career that makes you happy. For me, I really enjoy the ups and downs associated with science and binge drinking coffee to keep going (did I mention it's 3am now?). Try to find experiences that stimulate your interests, like internships, short jobs, or independent projects, and see what you find amazing.
Looking at what my science friends have done since graduation last year, there's a really wide spread. Lots are now in medical school or graduate school, while many others went straight to work in companies. They're all content with their choices (or they lie to me), and there's certainly no right or wrong decision. Just try to be happy, cherish your time in college, and make the best choice possible based on your own experiences. Don't worry too much about the future, as life always finds a way.