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Student Experiences

Below are links to interviews with Morris Biology students, conducted by fellow Biology student Hannah Sweet, ’16. They talk about their experiences doing research, internships, graduate school and employment. We encourage you to read their stories on their various experiences in hopes to better prepare you for your own opportunities in biology. If you are interested in sharing your own experience please contact Hannah SweetHHMI Careers in Biology Student Coordinator or Prof. Timna Wyckoff.

Alex Kleinfehn, ’14

Summer 2013, Alex participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SHER) at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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Why this experience?

Alex applied to around 40 different summer internships and the SHER program was one that accepted him. He was offered two different research opportunities here in Morris, but he wanted to see a different school in another part of the country.

Overall experience

A typical day started in the lab around 9 a.m., when Alex would talk to the graduate student he was working with. He would do research and lab work (with a lunch break) until 5 or 7 p.m.. For his project, Alex was looking at charged molecules by giving them one electron, which is a process known as ‘doping.’ He would then look at how they interacted with an atomic force microscope, allowing sight at the nanometer level.

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Preparing for this experience

Alex had to learn a lot at the beginning of the summer to prepare for his research, because the program was dealing with Physical Chemistry, and he hadn’t taken that class yet. However he did think that his classes thus far had prepared him well, the University of Southern Mississippi used a lot of the same lab equipment that he was already used to operating.

Future Goals:

Alex wants to go into the field of Material Science or Polymers, but is also interested in Biochemistry work. He ultimately wants to work for NASA. Alex thought SHER was a really good experience, because he got to see new instruments and talk to different students while gaining more lab experience. He also got a feel for what graduate school is like.

Have more questions? Contact Alex


Anne Gair, ’14

Anne Gair

Summer 2012, Anne was in a program called Gap Medics. Gap Medics is an international organization based out of the UK, it gives pre-health students the opportunity to shadow physicians through a hands on experience while learning about different cultures around the world. Gap Medics has four programs in different areas, and Anne chose to study in Tanzania.

Summer 2013, Anne was also involved in research at Baylor University. At Baylor, she worked in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry synthesizing TLR 7 agonists. Her research was also in connection with the Center for Drug Discovery, with a focus on eliciting more of an immune response in the synthesized vaccine adjuvants

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Why this experience?

GapMedics:
Anne learned about Gap Medics through a friend and decided it would be a great way to get more political experience. Gap Medics is not a competitive program, and Anne was able to use her Morris Stipend through a scholarship.

Baylor:
Anne applied for several NSF REUs, and settled on Baylor University in Texas. Baylor is currently in the process of becoming NSF certified and was in need of trial runs with out of state residents doing the program.

Future Goals:

Anne ultimately wants to be a family practice physician, and thinks that Gap Medics has absolutely helped her towards that goal. She says Gap Medics helped reassure her of her interest in medicine and her fascination with the mechanisms of our body. She would definitely recommend the program to other students.

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Overall experience

GapMedics:
Anne says that she felt well prepared for her Gap Medics experience, and states, “I’m a curious person, and I’m always asking questions.” This curiosity helped Anne succeed throughout the program. She is also EMT certified. A typical day in Tanzania involved walking to morning meetings around 7:30, followed by physician shadowing from 8-12. Students would then have a lunch break before afternoon lectures.

Baylor:
The hours while working at Baylor were really flexible, and as long as Anne did 40 hours a week, she could come in whenever she wanted. A lot of the research involved setting up experiments, waiting for results, and talking to the principle investigator. She spent her down time reading primary literature. Initially Anne felt quite underprepared because she was doing organic chemistry focused research instead of the biochemistry she was expecting, but in the end she was successful and learned a lot from the experience.

Anne Gair

Have more questions? Contact Anne


Emily Irey, ’14

Emily Irey

Summer 2013, Emily participated in the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) at the University of Oregon.

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Why this experience?

The main reason Emily ended up at the University of Oregon was that they came to her. She had an internship at Purdue during the summer of 2012, and while presenting that research at the AISES conference last year, the program director for SPUR stopped by her poster and talked about his research. The director stayed in contact with Emily and said he would be looking for her application. Emily had always wanted to do research and felt this would be best tailored to her, plus she wanted to go to the west coast.

Overall experience

A typical day involved being in the lab by 9 a.m., where Emily would talk with her mentor about which experiments were planned for the day. She would then map out which projects needed to be done, and which would carry over to the next day or later in the week. Emily would normally work in the lab until between 4:30 and 6, and stayed busy depending on the type of experiments running each day. She did a lot of wet bench lab work, and was also responsible for going down to a zebra fish facility to set up crosses and manage tanks.

Emily enjoyed weekend trips to various areas around the university, and had a really fun time throughout her SPUR experience. She recommends this program to fellow students and emphasized its focus on helping students be successful while helping them get to national conferences.

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Preparing for this experience

Emily felt well prepared for the program. Her mentor did a good job of contacting her prior to the internship and she was given preliminary articles to go over that helped prepare her. The first week of the program was mostly introductory, and anything she wasn’t ready for upon arrival, she was equipped to deal with by the end of the week. She continued to get papers to read in order to clarify specific things she would be working on in greater detail, as needed throughout the program.

Future Goals:

Emily ultimately wants to pursue a Ph.D. in a Cancer Biology related field. She is also really interested in gene therapy, and wants to do clinical trial research in the future. She thinks the program has definitely helped her towards this goal. She had a great relationship with her mentor and PI throughout the summer, and hopes for good recommendation letters from them. Emily thinks she has learned a lot of new skills, and is now a better candidate for future research programs.

Have more questions? Contact Emily


Matt Molennar, ’15

Matt Molennar

Summer 2013, Matt participated in the Summer Surgery Experience (SSE) at the Cincinnati School of Medicine, and in the GapMedics program in Tanzania.

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Why this experience?

Matt found out about SSE in Cincinnati from one of Professor Soderberg’s emails for Pre-Med students. It was a very competitive program, and Matt was thinking about surgery at the time, so he applied and was accepted.

Preparing for this experience

SSE:
The Cincinnati program was highly rigorous, Matt got a huge packet of anatomy that he needed to go through and study. He had to prepare for the program extensively. Fellow students were very “high caliber, from great, well known schools,” and Matt felt like Morris prepared him well. He was surprised to find himself on the same level as his peers. “The hours were crazy,” as Matt put it, and he sometimes worked 12-14 hour days in the trauma ward or with surgeons.

GapMedics:
Matt also went to Tanzania last summer to participate in Gap Medics for two weeks. He had heard a lot of good things about Gap Medics from fellow students, and he was excited to leave the country. He was prepared for Gap Medics, and felt like it was more fun as opposed to Cincinnati being more work oriented.

Matt found the Gap Medics experience really helpful. He has an interest in working with underserved populations and thought the hospital there was really underprivileged. If he becomes a doctor, he wants to take the time to work with populations like that, probably somewhere in America. The program was mostly about seeing if it was the right ft for him, and he thought it was, especially in pediatrics.

Future Goals:

For his career, Matt wants to help people in a very hands on setting. He is interested in Surgery, Oncology, and Pediatrics, and is thinking of getting a Masters in Public Health joint degree (MD/MPH). He has also shadowed in Family Medicine and sees that as an option. Whatever he ends up doing, Matt knows that he wants to work with kids. He feels the Cincinnati program has definitely helped him towards his future career, as he already has a foot in the door at that medical school. The program was competitive and Matt knows that medical schools will see that, increasing his chances of admission. He learned a lot of clinical knowledge and about what it means to be a medical student, and thought SSE was a really good program overall.

Matt recommends both programs, and encourages other pre-med students to try something competitive when looking for an internship opportunity.

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Overall experience

SSE:
Daily activities varied during the program, and some days were spent listening to presentations given by surgeons on their particular specialties. The head of admissions would also come and talk to students about what is needed to get into medical school. Students did activities with different case studies. Matt was able to work with a cadaver, watch surgery, and tour the hospital during the program. There was a lot of shadowing, and he also got to meet the air helicopter crew, special military doctors (program where doctors work in civilian hospitals during peacetime so they don’t lose their skills), and see the simulation center. Matt thought the internship was fun, though more work than a typical summer experience. The program lasted for two weeks and he was in a group of 12 students. He went and toured a zoo during the weekend, and had a little bit of free time in the evenings, which most students spent studying or doing research projects.

GapMedics:
Typical mornings involved shadowing in surgery, internal medicine, and pediatrics. During the afternoon Matt would go to town, the park, or the orphanage, where he played with local kids. During the weekend he was able to go on a safari.

Matt Molennar

Have more questions? Contact Matt


Aubrey Thyen, ’14

Julie Bonham, ’14

Kate Buringa, ’14

Alle Bowman, ’15

Gapmedics

Aubrey, Alle, Julie, and Kate all participated in a program called Gap Medics in Tanzania. Gap Medics is a shadowing program for pre-health students based out of the UK. The program is not affiliated with school so there is no credit given, but it allows students to study in different locations around the world.

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Why did you choose Gap Medics?

Aubrey searched online and found Gap Medics using a google search. She wanted to go to Africa, and decided that it looked like a good program because they provided housing and it seemed safe. GapMedics was also cheaper than a lot of other programs.

Julie was getting jealous of other people going and she wanted to travel and see things she wouldn’t get at home. Julie is interested in dentistry, so she felt like there were more interesting cases in Tanzania and she got a much more exciting shadow experience because it was different every day.

Kate heard about Gap Medics from Anne Gair, who went to Tanzania earlier while Aubrey was there. She looked into it after receiving Anne’s email and decided that it sounded awesome. Kate went over Christmas break for four weeks.

What is your ultimate career goal, has Gap Medics helped you towards that goal?

Kate wants to become an anesthesiologist, and says that Gap Medics has definitely helped by giving her the experience of working in a hospital under diverse circumstances.

Aubrey hasn’t decided on what she wants to do exactly, but knows she wants to be a primary care physician. She also likes studying infectious disease. She agrees that Gap Medics has been helpful, and hopes to travel back to Africa to do free work or help out in a clinic.

Julie wants to go into Dentistry and thinks that Gap Medics has helped her relate to different people in diverse backgrounds. During Gap Medics she needed to communicate in many different ways and she feels it has shown her a different side to the medical system.

Alle wants to be a pediatrician and thought that being totally submerged in the medical area was mind blowing, she is convinced that being a pediatrician is something she definitely wants to do now.

Aubrey, Alle, Julie, and Kate would all recommend Gap Medics to fellow students, and are willing to answer more questions if you want additional information.

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What was the internship like?

Every morning students got up for a meeting, “which were usually boring and hot,” Aubrey mentioned. The meeting was followed by shadowing different departments of the hospital (which rotated every week). Students would go on rounds and watch surgeries until lunch, then listen to lectures, which concluded around 2. Aubrey, Kate and Alle were all in the medical program, while Julie was there for dentistry (so she worked/shadowed in a separate area). Gap Medics also has midwife and nursing programs.

Gap Medics also provided opportunities for day trips to various locations. Aubrey traveled to Zanzibar and they hooked her up with a travel guide for the day. Kate and Alle both went on an overnight weekend safari in the Ruaha National Park. Students were also given the opportunity to volunteer at a local orphanage.

Alle learned about the program from Anne as well, and went to Tanzania for three weeks last summer.

Did you feel prepared or was the experience overwhelming?

Aubrey felt a little overwhelmed upon arrival in Tanzania, because she got there a day early at midnight and needed to find her own way to the hotel. It was a little scary, but she attributed it to the normal level of nerves that would be expected when traveling to Africa alone. Once she was with the Gap Medics staff she felt more comfortable and prepared. She says there are some stigmas there that you need to mentally prepare for (women being treated differently as an example), but that you become used to the different situations fairly quickly.

Julie only felt underprepared when it came to packing. She wasn’t clear on what she needed to bring and was running around looking for scrubs last minute only to find she didn’t need them.

Kate thought they did a really good job of preparing students as far as accommodations and the hotel. She also said there was an immediate culture shock getting off the plane, but that she got used to it quickly.

Gapmedics

Have more questions? Contact Aubrey, Alle, Julie, or Kate


Past Student Experiences »

Becca Erickson, ’13

Becca Erickson

Becca participated in an REU with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY.

Becca originally narrowed her list of possible REUs down to molecular, cell, and ecology ones, which left her with around 80 to look at. She narrowed again, reading through each of the projects, and decided that the ecology focused programs were most interesting. She wanted to work with the Cary Institute the most out of all 12 programs she applied to and was called for an interview in March. She chose the Cary Institute because they are very research focused, and part of the curriculum was an emphasis on translational ecology. The internship also paid very well and was located in New York!

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Preparing for the REU

Becca had done a lot of previous work with professors during class labs, which helped her feel prepared. However when she got there she felt like everything she had learned previously was for a test and her new job was not on any test she had taken. This was ok because everyone there was in the same boat.

Overall experience

Becca studied an invasive insect that kills the Eastern Hemlock. When she arrived at her REU, she was allowed to study anything she wanted as long as it dealt with the invasive insect and the Eastern Hemlock. This led to a lot of trial and error with research projects and Becca eventually investigated the different factors that influence settlement density of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. She found that different locations had different settlement densities, and that there was faster development in the sun (which could imply that the insects reproduce faster in warmer places). These concepts were both unknown previously and Becca’s research got to a point where her mentors were asking her questions not to test her knowledge but because they didn’t know and she was more knowledgeable in the area! Another great feelings arose when Becca was able to correct Wikipedia a few times due to her research.

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Future Goals

Becca doesn’t know what her ultimate career goal is yet but says that her REU has absolutely helped her. She thinks she will end up being a professor, and that her REU taught her that she doesn’t want to be research-focused. The focus on translational ecology at the Cary Institute helped clarify her interest in translating rather than doing the research.

Recommend this REU?

Becca definitely recommends her REU with the Cary Institute to other students. She also notes that the application process was intense and recommends that interested students narrow their focus at the beginning so that they can apply for the opportunities that they are really passionate about.

Becca Erickson

Have more questions? Contact Becca


Katie Kaus, ’11

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Ph.D. student at Wesleyan University.

Why did you choose to go to grad school?

I chose to go to grad school because I would like to be a professor, and because I love to learn. Pursuing a graduate degree and a career as a professor will give me the opportunity to be a life long learner.

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Where did you choose to go to grad school? Why?

I chose to go to grad school at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. I chose this school for a few reasons. First, the location is good for what I am studying. Many biotech companies as well as other research facilities are relatively nearby, allowing for easier collaboration and use of a broad range of tools. Second, the program at Wesleyan is a small program, with about 20 graduate students. For me, a smaller program is better. The students in our program are very close, and there is quite a bit of collaboration between the different labs. I think collaboration in research is very important because it allows you to look at a single problem from multiple views.

Did you feel prepared for grad school?

The first year I applied for grad school, I did not get in anywhere. I believe my lack of research experience played a major role in this. I spent a year volunteering in labs and taking graduate level courses to gain experience.

What are you studying in grad school? What is your ultimate career goal?

I am in the PhD program in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry program at Wesleyan. I am also studying under a biophysics training grant from the NIH.

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What kind of research are you doing? What are your peers researching?

My research is in structural biology. I am investigating the structure and function of bacterial pore forming toxins. I have included a summary/abstract of the project I began working on this Fall below. Other labs in the department investigate areas in molecular biology and biophysics areas. More information about the research done in the MB&B department at Wesleyan can be found here: http://www.wesleyan.edu/mbb/research/research_areas.html and here: http://www.wesleyan.edu/mbb/faculty.html

How busy is your schedule? Is there anything else you would like to share?

As a first year student, my schedule is pretty busy. I take 2-3 courses, TA an intro to biology lab (with 15 students), do grading for both my lab and for a section of intro to biology lecture, and do research in my lab. In our program, the first two years are the most hectic. We take a qualifying exam during the second week of January of the second year, and propose a thesis project in March/April of the same year. Although I am busy, I still find time spend with friends and do things I enjoy.


Julie Bonham, ’14

Julie Bonham

Julie participated in an internship at The Summer Dental School Experience.

Why this internship?

Julie had offers for three different opportunities and her advisor suggested that she participate in the Summer Dental School Experience because it would help her prepare for applying to dental school.

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Overall Experience

The program lasted for 5 weeks and was designed to prepare students for applying to dental school and for taking the DAT (Dental Admission Test). A different topic was covered each week in preparation for the DAT. There would be three, 3 hour biology classes the first week, and then chemistry the next week, followed by writing, and quantitative reasoning/math. Days were filled with activities from 8 AM to 4 PM, with a focus on health disparities (looking at people without equal access to health care). Julie did her research on the growing Hispanic population in Morris and how immigrant workers get their information about dental insurance. Students were also paired with dental student mentors that could give them advice. Speakers came in to talk about new dental laws and current legislation. Students got time in lab every Friday for practice in a simulation dental clinic, work on dental robots, and practice at drillings fillings.

Applying this internship

Julie has paired up with the Jane Adams group, and has set up a night to talk about dentistry and how to properly care for teeth with local kids.

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Future Goals

Julie wants to be a dentist and is open to practicing anywhere. The summer dental opportunity has motivated her to become president of the Pre-Dental club where she shares what she has learned with other pre-dental students. She feels she has really strengthened her application by going through the program.

Recommend this internship?

Julie strongly recommends this opportunity for pre-dental students; it has made her much more confidant and prepared for dental school. The internship is also conveniently in Minnesota, so it allows you to stay here and is more affordable.

Julie Bonham

Have more questions? Contact Julie


Luciana Ranelli, ’14

Luciana Ranelli

Last summer (2012) Luciana participated in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

Why this REU?

Luciana applied to six ecology related programs. She chose the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory because the program was located in a cool, exciting place and it sounded like a very unique REU experience. Most REU’s are based at institutions, while this research opportunity is lab based. Researchers come to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory from all over the world, providing a diverse group of people with very different fields.

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Preparing for the REU

Luciana felt well prepared for her REU after her junior year at Morris. She had writing experience in Bio Comm 1 and 2, and had taken ecology. She had done additional research with Margaret Kuchenreuther. The REU also had sessions on statistics, excel, and other graphics, where students who weren’t as prepared could get the support and help they needed.

Overall Experience

Luciana worked with another student under the same mentor. Together they tackled a rather large research project focused on fungi associated with grass and how their distribution varies with elevation. Luciana and her partner hiked around the Rocky Mountains collecting grass samples at various elevations. Back at the lab, they refrigerated samples and made microscope slides, which they examined for the presence of fungal endophytes. Luciana also did some work with boiling and staining plants roots.

Applying this internship

Julie has paired up with the Jane Adams group, and has set up a night to talk about dentistry and how to properly care for teeth with local kids.

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Future Goals

Luciana wants to work outdoors with ecology and education. She doesn’t know her ultimate career goal but knows that grad school is in her future. She feels the REU was a good personal experience and a great networking opportunity. The REU helped Luciana learn that she loves research, which will feed into her future plans.

Luciana recommends this REU to other students, and feels it was a great experience.

Luciana Ranelli

Have more questions? Contact Luciana


Lynn Maxa, ’11

UMM Graduate--Lynn has been working as a Medical Scribe at Region’s Hospital and the Mayo Clinic.

What does a Medical Scribe do?

A medical scribe works 1-on-1 with a physician and they are able to follow them 100% of the time with a portable computer. The scribe observes and documents the complete patient encounter including the history of present illness, physical exam, conversations and consultations with other providers and procedures. You develop a very deep understanding of medical terminology and proper medical charting techniques (this is something that many medical students will struggle with when they get to that point in their education!) Also, scribes are able to view all lab and imaging results, and learn how to read them with the providers. I personally work in the ER, which for a pre-med student is an excellent opportunity! I get to see patient's of all ages with all kinds of different medical problems. We see trauma patients and those who need acute care, as well as many with chronic illnesses that need management

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Through being a scribe, you learn not only the "basics" of medicine, but you get to observe doctor-patient interactions, doctor-doctor interactions, and learn how to critically think like a physician. I personally love being able to problem solve, and enjoy the process between first seeing them, ordering tests, and definitively giving them a diagnosis!! Additionally, you develop strong relationships with many of the physicians and other providers, who will act as very important mentors into your medical career, but also can write very excellent recommendations for grad school!

I work with a company that only works with medical scribes. They form contracts with hospitals and clinics, and will send their scribes to the sites. I have been working at Region's Hospital in St. Paul (right in the middle of downtown) and also worked at the Mayo Clinic in Owatonna MN, which has a more rural population. Our company has scribes that work all over the country in the ER, family practice, dermatology, orthopedics, gastroenterology, urology and in other specialties.

Our company not only hires pre-medicine students, but also pre-PA, pre-nursing and other pre-health professions. They ask for a 1 year full-time or 2 year part-time commitment. For more information, you can go to www.elitemedicalscribes.com. If you are interested in applying, you can also put "LYNN MAXA" in the "how did you hear about us?" section, and my bosses will know that I sent you

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