North Central College - Naperville, IL

Students Leverage Research for Grad School

Kyle Olson '10 knows exactly why he was accepted into a top-rated analytical chemistry doctorate program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “The summer research I did was really key,” he says. “To get in to one of the best programs, you need those opportunities.”

Students who are going on to pursue advanced degrees in the sciences are finding that top graduate schools are impressed with their research experiences, both on campus and off. They’ve paired up with their professors to explore new theories and shared their findings at conferences like the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in professional journals and at the College’s Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research.

“The numbers of science division students going to graduate school increase every year and this year we had students interviewing at places like Harvard, Princeton and Michigan,” says Jonathan Visick, associate professor of biology. “Student-faculty research collaboration is certainly one key to our success; the other key factor is a student-focused faculty that has worked tirelessly to build a curriculum on par with the best liberal arts colleges despite fewer resources and a lack of physical facilities. Our research-rich curriculum incorporates experimental design, critical analysis, scientific reading and writing skills, and problem-solving to help our students grow into scientists.”

Olson says researching with Jeffrey Bjorklund, professor of chemistry, put him ahead of the competition because “the research was open-ended. You have a say in how to solve the problems that come up.”

Jesse Carey ’10 benefited from his “green” chemistry research with Paul Brandt, associate professor of chemistry. “I plan to study physical chemistry at Minnesota,” Carey says.

Rachel Zmora ’10 plans to use her biochemistry major in law school to study environmental or intellectual property law. “Law schools found me to be an interesting candidate because I studied outside of my field,” she says. “I am a strong supporter of interdisciplinary studies and I believe that graduate programs appreciate applicants who diversify their studies.”

christina lorenzo

Working across disciplines and taking a leadership role in research is very important, according to Linda Gao, professor of mathematics, who mentored Dorothy Tran ’10, biochemistry major, and Christina Lorenzo ’10, mathematics and actuarial science major, as they studied the transmission dynamic of Chlamydia and the impact of a vaccination. “Dorothy and Christina both showed leadership in this project, even though they were first-year students at the time,” says Gao. “Dorothy basically wrote the paper for the journal published by NCUR, while Christina did rigorous analysis of the model and gave excellent answers to the questions posed by faculty members at the NCUR presentation.” Tran will go on to Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University while Lorenzo will pursue a doctorate in mathematics at Purdue University.

Biochemistry major Sarah Martin ’10 started her research career with Bjorklund and then obtained research experiences in pharmacology at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, LA, and at Loyola University in Maywood, IL. She will pursue her interest in developing new drugs by attending the doctoral program at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine. “The program I chose is among the best in the nation for receiving National Institutes of Health funding,” she says. “And I feel well prepared for this next challenge.”

North Central NOW Spring 2010