Lauren Staman, a senior Molecular & Cellular Biology major, speaks with us about the field, her experience conducting research at Rowan University, and tips for students looking into the major.
Can you describe molecular and cellular biology?
It’s basically a field of biology that’s very specialized yet interdisciplinary. It deals with the inner workings of mechanisms of cells and how they work inside of our bodies.
What are some of the things that you do as part of the major?
So right now, one of the main aspects that really drew me to the major was the ability to do undergraduate research. I’ve been able to work in a biophysics lab for the past couple of years or so, and before that, in a bioinformatics lab. I really appreciate how you get different experience in different areas of science.
What do you enjoy most about research?
I really enjoy the hands-on aspect of being able to do bench science and work in an area that is doing applicable science that could have the ability to be published in real journals and make a real impact. And I get to do that under faculty that are highly experienced and motivated, and help me to perform experiments in a manner that you wouldn’t be able to in just a classroom setting, and think through problems on your own and in different ways, and troubleshoot, and troubleshoot again. And kind of discover new mechanisms of ways to solve problems.
What kind of experiments do you work on?
I mainly work on protein purification, studying the thermodynamics of different proteins. I most recently worked on the purification of the SARS-2 main protease, so as we know, coronavirus. And I basically do that by going through a series of steps over multiple days that include bacterial recombination and column chromatography to analyze the purity of a protein before we then analyze it through NMR, which is nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which gets us a better idea of the actual structure of the protein and how it interacts with other proteins or substances, and how it may unfold.
How will this information be applied in your career?
I kind of think of this as like a stepping stone into the “real job” world. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s really interested in going into research, whether that be in biotech, pharma, government or just industry in general. That’s what drew me to the program in the first place — I knew I wanted to be a scientific researcher and do bench science. And so having these opportunities to have hands-on experience in a research setting like this kind of provides you with the knowledge that you might need and what you might expect in a job like that after you graduate.
I know a lot of people who have chosen to do internships either over the summer or during the school year with different scientific companies, like I said, in pharma, or biotech, or just biological research in general, that they usually do over the summer.
I’ve spent my last couple summers doing the summer undergraduate research program here. So I’ve continued working in the lab, and it allows for more time in the lab and more experience, and usually an opportunity to get compensated for your work. So that’s always nice.
Can you talk about working with professors, and the knowledge and expertise that they can provide to you outside of the classroom?
Sure. I’ve been really grateful to have some really great research mentors who I’ve had experience inside the classroom setting, obviously, but it’s a lot different once you get into the lab. In a classroom, you’re usually doing experiments that have been done a million times and are proven to work — that’s why they’re given out to students to do. But once you enter their research labs, these are projects that are not proven and still have yet to be solved, really.
Working with mentors through the research facilities and having their expertise to guide you along in a way that allows you to get a sense of independent research and what it means to work on a project by yourself and learn problem solving skills and how to troubleshoot is something that you don’t really get in a classroom.
Do you do group work?
I do. I’ve worked on group projects as well, where there’s been multiple students working with me on a project. And that’s great, because you really learn how to collaborate with people, time management, and how to distribute responsibilities, which also is very applicable in the job world, too. Once you get out and you decide to go into research, you’ll likely be working in a team. So in that sense, it’s given me a good idea of what it means to work as a team and collaborate with other scientists.
What are your plans after graduation?
So right now I’m planning to get my master’s in pharmaceutical sciences here. And I’ve really always been interested in genes and proteins, so I’d like to do some sort of genetic research in an industrial setting. So bench work, like I’ve been doing, with hopefully the possible application of precision medicine or gene therapy.
What aspects of the major have you enjoyed the most?
That’s a good question. I’d say, besides being able to work in a research lab, probably all of the different electives that I’ve had the opportunity to choose from. There are restricted electives that come with the major, but they’re really interdisciplinary. So I’ve taken everything from microbiology, to neuroscience, to molecular genetics, and being exposed to all of those different types of classes kind of gives me an idea of what science I do like, what science I don’t like, and what I’m really interested in.
Did all of these opportunities factor into your choice to attend Rowan University?
Yes, I applied to a variety of different schools, but I ultimately chose Rowan because of their research programs, and all the different areas of research that I had the opportunity to go into because I myself have always have always been a very indecisive person. And I’m one of those people who, I don’t want to commit to something until I completely know that I’ve tried everything else. And this is ultimately what I want to do. So Rowan was really great for that, because I’ve been able to hop from different areas of science and kind of feel them all out and see which ones I like best.
Any advice for incoming students in this major?
Don’t be afraid to get involved and reach out to your professors. Definitely use their office hour times to just talk to them about science and their career paths, and the steps they’ve taken, how they’ve gotten here today. There’s so many outside perspectives and different areas of jobs in research and just science in general that I didn’t even know about before I entered this major, that you really don’t uncover until you talk to all of these people.
Is there anything else you’ve found especially important to your experience with the program?
Well, I do know another thing that’s really great about the program is that they offer a lot of biological seminars. So they bring people in from different universities or different companies to talk about their science and work they’re doing. And that’s really nice because students get the opportunity to hear about research from different areas, even if it’s not Rowan, if it’s something that they might like to pursue after they graduate.
How has your experience at Rowan been as a whole?
I’d definitely say that everybody’s really welcoming and understanding of your different needs and really cater to what you want to get out of this major as a student. Because at the end of the day, I mean, you’re doing this for you, and they recognize that. So they really try to cater to your needs to figure out what you like and how they can help you get into courses that interest you the most or get into research that interests you the most. They really work with you along the way to figure out what happens beyond Rowan.
See our video with Lauren here:
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Joseph Conte, junior community and environmental planning major