Thomas Johnson February 2023

Thomas Johnson Spotlight Picture

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT | February 2023

KU major: Biology, German Studies, Class of 2018

Current occupation: Graduate (PhD) Student

Research mentors while at KU: Dr. Jamie Walters and his graduate student Andrew Mongue

Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU:

A: My undergraduate research experience in the Walters lab inspired me to pursue a career in biological research and afforded me the opportunity to start building the skills I would need to follow that path. I learned the methods of molecular biology at a bench in a lab setting. I got to get outside at the KU field station to collect and identify insect species. I got started learning data analysis and I even had the opportunity to travel and present my research at the Arthropod Genomics Symposium.


Q: What did your research or creative project look like on a day-to-day basis? What did you spend most of your time doing?

A: In my everyday, I spent the most time helping to maintain the lab's colonies of moths and butterflies. That included making food for larvae, monitoring development, and cleaning. I also spent a lot of time running PCRs, extracting DNA or RNA from samples, and assisting with processing and organizing samples


Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research? 

A: The most important thing I learned from my undergraduate research experience is that research could be for me. A researcher was no longer an abstract and unobtainable concept. They were nice people who were happy to help me learn and develop the skills to conduct research myself.


Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?

A: If you are interested in doing research, read up on the professors in your department of interest and get in touch with people who are doing things that excite you. If you find an opportunity, give it a shot! Don't be discouraged if a professor is not taking on students or if you start with a professor and then decide it's not for you. Take this time to explore!


Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation?  How so?

A: My undergraduate research experience was instrumental for me. I started my graduate studies with a strong foundation of experience and a diversity of skills and knowledge that apply directly to my graduate research.


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 worked as a lab technician after graduation and then moved on to graduate school. The pandemic complicated things, but I wish my younger self had taken some time to travel around. I recommend taking some time off and getting some new experiences if you can support that before rushing into a career.


Social Media: @ad_thominem on Twitter and @thomwjohnson on Instagram