Mathematics major, Chemistry minor
Ph.D. candidate in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering and Graduate Assistant at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
My current research entails examining the production of a therapeutic protein (collagen binding domain bound to parathyroid hormone). This protein has the ability to increase bone density and decrease hair loss. I am focusing on the production techniques - fermentation and expression - to increase the amount of therapeutic protein. I am also utilizing modeling techniques - metabolic flux analysis and a complex system of ordinary differential equations - to mathematically model the biological processes that occur during production of the protein.
My first research opportunity came through the form of an Arkansas INBRE grant (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research). I was paired up with my current Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Bob Beitle, to perform research during the summer of 2006. At that point, we were working on a project that examined the extraction of antioxidants from cocoa powder. The following summer (2007), I was asked to return to the U of A to work on a different project. During this particular summer, I learned techniques that I currently use today as a Ph.D. candidate. For my senior thesis as required by the math department, I chose to work on a chemical engineering project under the direction of Dr. Beitle and Dr. Duff Campbell. This project involved mathematically modeling the biological activity that cells undergo during metabolism. After completing my first summer research experience, I knew that chemical engineering would become a part of my life - it combines the two things that I am interested in, mathematics and chemistry. Completing my senior thesis "sealed the deal" so-to-speak, about attending graduate school for a degree in chemical engineering. It was a great experience to witness the successful combination of mathematics and chemistry/biology in order to complete the project, in addition to being a part of the collaboration between my two advisors.
How Hendrix prepared me for success
My Hendrix experience completely prepared me for my work now in multiple ways. First of all, the level of coursework that Hendrix offers mentally prepared me for the graduate coursework required by the University of Arkansas. Secondly, my experience as the varsity softball team captain has prepared me for my current role as President of the Arkansas Chemical Engineering Graduate Student organization. The time management skills I developed at Hendrix have also prepared me for managing my time between laboratory work, course work, and other obligations.
After graduation, I plan on working for a biotechnology company or firm. I want to continue performing research in the pharmaceutical field. It is satisfying to know that something you are working on could potentially be used as a therapy for many people.
Get involved with research early and work on different projects. This will increase your experience and familiarity with different procedures and different people who can help you get your foot in the door for other opportunities. It will also help you narrow down and decide what you may want to do after your undergraduate career at Hendrix. Also, don't fret about not knowing what you want to do. I didn't have a plan until after I got involved with research. You never know when opportunities will crop up that can help you make decisions about your future.