In the most recent issue of Bowdoin Magazine, “Bring on the Science” offers a taste of what it means to do science research at Bowdoin. Here, students and recent graduates give us the inside scoop:
Beatriz Malibiran ’14 plans to be a doctor, but her interest in genetics led her to seek a research fellowship in the summer following her sophomore year, conducting fruit fly genetic research with biology assistant professor Jack Bateman.
“My first stint in the lab was confusing but exciting—there were so many new things to learn, and running a project took a lot more organization and accountability on my part than I was accustomed to.” Malibiran notes that she adjusted quickly, thanks to her advisor and lab mates, and kept on conducting research with Bateman through her senior year. Research “has provided me with a skill set that will translate very well into the medical field.”
Jepte Vergara ’16, who intends to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, launched into research last summer in Hadley Horch’s neuroscience lab – an experience that was “truly enlightening,” he says. “I gained a better understanding about the molecular and physiological mechanics of a nervous system. I also gained valuable insight into the techniques and technology used in a lab to see what happens inside an organism.”
Amy Spens ’15 began researching plant genetics last summer with biology assistant professor Vladimir Douhovnikoff. “It was my first truly immersive lab experience, and I loved it. It had its own particular challenges, but it was very rewarding to learn so many tools for genetic exploration, and then to see their application come to fruition.”
Spens is back at it this summer doing research for her honors project next year. “This time I’m looking at gene expression in arctic plants, and hopefully comparing samples from the 1913 Crocker Land expedition in Greenland to modern samples collected from a friend” who is conducting research in Greenland this summer.
That friend happens to be Margaret Lindeman ’15, who among other activities is gearing up for an honors project that combines math with earth and oceanographic science to address an aspect of climate change. “We’re amazingly lucky to interact closely with faculty who are doing incredibly interesting research,” Lindeman says – in her case, that’s Associate Professor of Earth and Oceanographic Science Collin Roesler and Professor of Mathematics Mary Lou Zeeman.
“Coming to Bowdoin, I didn’t know that I wanted to go into science,” says Zoe Karp ’14, but her neuroscience and math classes spurred her to declare a double major in those disciplines. A summer fellowship in neuroscience research helped hone her plans: “This experience was incredibly valuable to me,” Karp says. “First, it helped me decide that I didn’t want to work in a lab for a career,” though she says she enjoyed testing the waters of laboratory work. “It also led me to realize that I loved the interdisciplinary nature of my project” and decide she wanted to focus on math-based challenges within a scientific field.
Dan Palken ’14 notes that his research in physics has made him realize that “simply being challenged by a physics problem motivates me to learn as much as I can about it and anything relevant to it. It draws as much on my stubborn pride to not let the problem go unsolved as it does on my passion for the underlying physics, which is actually not something I would have anticipated.”
Patrick Millet ’14 “felt a calling to work in the environmental field” while growing up in Haiti, where consequences of environmental degradation ranged from treacherous landslides to poor agricultural yields. To test out biological research as means of getting involved, Millet worked on a project with biology and environmental studies professor John Lichter in Merrymeeting Bay.
“I really enjoyed this experience, and especially liked the fact that Professor Lichter had a concern for communicating the goals and results of his study with Maine communities with ties to the resources that he studied.” That project has been followed by more science in Costa Rica and an eel conservation project back in Maine as Millet continues to develop his career plans.
Another student who has worked with Lichter is Nate Niles ’15, who studied American shad on the Androscoggin River, assessing whether a fish lift (yes, that’s an elevator for fish) would be a feasible solution for transporting shad upriver at the Brunswick Hydroelectric Dam. “The research experience really allowed me to work independently and put much of what I’d learned in classes to good use,” Niles says.
“I had no idea what I was signing up for, in the best way,” says Cam Adams ’14 of his first summer research project, a NSF-funded study with earth and oceanographic science professor Philip Camill in Churchill, Manitoba, focusing on how past climate has affected the growth and decay of peatlands. These ecosystems store more carbon than all other terrestrial ecosystems on Earth combined “and yet their role in the global carbon cycle is not well understood,” Adams says.
“I got to be on the front lines of it, so was pretty excited,” he says, adding that the opportunity “really convinced me that I had made the right decision to enter the earth and oceanographic science department and propelled me to select a field research camp in New Zealand for my study abroad” as well as undertake research in the Brunswick area and more research in Labrador the following summer, collecting data for his honors thesis. “These experiences have definitely made me want to pursue a career in scientific research.”