Alumni Spotlight | November 2018
KU major: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Class of 2010
Current occupation: AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow
Research mentor while at KU: Dr. Jennifer Gleason
Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU:
A: As a member of the IMSD program, I performed research in Dr. Jennifer Gleason’s lab where I developed an independent project examining the roles of different senses in fruit fly courtship. During my time in Dr. Gleason’s lab, I not only gained hands-on research experience, but was also able to present my research at multiple conferences across the country. These opportunities provided an experience far beyond what I could have gained solely in the classroom.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: I learned two major things while doing undergraduate research. First, success in research is equal parts hard work and resiliency. Not all experiments are going to work out and being able to adapt is key. Second, I learned that it is important to be able to place your research into context. Keeping up with the scientific literature and understanding how your experiment fits into the larger scheme of things will make a research experience far more valuable. It will also give you a deeper understanding of your field.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: Go for it and take advantage of the opportunity! Participating in research will give you a more well-rounded undergraduate experience. Even if you do not intend to pursue research as a career path, the skills you gain doing research (time management, attention to detail, demonstrating that you are a productive team member, etc.) are applicable to any career. Also, just from a practical standpoint, being involved in research allows you the opportunity to really get to know a KU faculty member who will likely be able to write you a great letter of recommendation in the future.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: Absolutely. I am currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency where I am engaged in policy related to novel biotechnologies (e.g., gene editing applications in agriculture, gene drives, etc.). During my KU research experience, I gained knowledge in ecology and evolutionary biology that is directly relevant to my understanding of the topics I work on today.
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: You don’t have to have everything figured out right away. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to explore multiple career options. Contact people with jobs you think are interesting and perform “informational interviews” to get an idea of how they got to where they are.