Research Fueled by Different Motivations

by Scott Morrison '14

July 13, 2012

Not every biology major wants to be working in a lab for his entire career.  Juniors Kevin Downey, Nathan Klopfenstein, and Andrew Stegelmann have utilized their summer research with Dr. Patrick Burton to pursue vastly different fields.

Everyone conducting summer research seems to hold the belief that the opportunities provided by the College are great experiences, but the paths students pursue with the research are not uniform.  Many students use the opportunity to help decide whether or not they really want to conduct research after Wabash.  However, the students in Dr. Burton’s group epitomize the diverse opportunities created and fostered by the liberal arts. 

Klopfenstein is the only one of the three planning to pursue a traditional research path.  Klopfenstein has been refining an experiment performed in Biology 112 which assesses the effects of ethanol, and a compound which ethanol blocks, on frog embryonic development.  Dr. Burton and Klopfenstein are hoping to use the summer’s work to publish the experiment for other schools to use throughout the country.  “I am really thankful for this opportunity to prepare me for the professional biology field,” Klopfenstein said.  “This has been a lot of hands-on experience and a good view into professional research.”

Stegelmann and Downey took the opportunity t to build their résumés for other reasons.  Stegelmann came to Wabash planning on attending medical school after graduation.  Despite his preset plans, he wanted to try the research side of biology to better weigh his options. He has spent the summer working on turning off a gene pathway in sea anemones that causes head development.  While he has no long-term interest in sea anemones, Stegelmann (in photo at right) realizes the value of the work.  “I still want to go to med school, but I wanted to try the research side of biology,” he said.  “And obviously when you apply to medical school or grad school, they [admissions staff] like to see that kind of experience.”

Next year, Stegelmann may try to return for more summer research or he will pursue a summer immersion trip to Germany.  Either way, he hopes to capitalize on one of the great opportunities Wabash provides. 

Downey, who has spent his time researching the role cell division plays in regeneration, is the “oddball” of all of the researchers.  Unlike many students, he actually has no desire to pursue research in the future.  Downey has planned on becoming an orthodontist since middle school, but that being said, the opportunity will serve him well when he attempts to get into dental school after graduation.  “To go to medical schools, getting research looks really good,” Downey said.  “Basically going into any science field doing research is good experience.”

While each of the three hopes to use the summer for different reasons, they have all gained vital experience that would not be possible otherwise.  “If these opportunities weren’t available, I would probably working retail back home like I did last summer, and that is the kind of work a high school [kid] does,” Downey said. 

In addition to all the work involved as a summer researcher, Downey acknowledged the three have seen a new side of campus.  “Living in Crawfordsville may not always be exciting, but I enjoy staying at Wabash in the summer,” Downey said.  “It is good to be able to work with friends and people you like.”


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