John C. Young Scholar thrives in the lab

Posted by Centre News in Academics, News, Research 30 Apr 2014

baileyThe most intriguing part of her yearlong experience as a John C. Young (JCY) Scholar at Centre College has been the chance to see the “behind-the-scenes part of science,” says Bailey Nelson ’14, a biology major from Owensboro, Ky.

“Submitting papers, doing revisions, etc. . . . it has been interesting to see the dynamics of a scientific collaboration and how everyone contributes to a final publication,” she says.

She has also been surprised to learn just how much work goes into a four- or five-page research paper.

“I now have a more robust appreciation for scientific journals,” she says.

PterosporaNelson’s JCY project, “Conservation Genetics of Eastern Pterospora,” continues a study with which she initially became involved as a first-year student working in the lab of Matt Klooster, now director of community service and the Bonner Program as well as assistant professor of biology and environmental studies. The study looks at Pterospora andromedea [pictured right], or pinedrops, a member of the blueberry family that obtains nutrients from fungus in the soil rather than through the more typical photosynthesis.

She hopes that her final report will eventually lead to a more personal understanding of her observations of scientific collaboration, as well as a journal publishing a paper that she has written with her mentor and his co-researcher, Lisa Grubisha, NSF post-doctoral fellow in biology at Centre.

For his part, Klooster describes Nelson as “one of the most gifted students” he has taught or mentored in his 10-year teaching career. Even as a first-year, he says, “Bailey had an immediate knack for research, working very independently to advance her objectives in the lab.”

He adds, “Bailey likes to finish things she has started,” citing as evidence her participation in the John C Young program as a means to find “resolution to scientific questions” she first explored three years ago.

“Through the dedicated mentorship of my collaborator, Lisa Grubisha, Bailey was able to make extraordinary headway on this project and has now contributed information that will enhance humanity’s understanding of complex, highly specialized ecological interactions,” he says.

The opportunity the Pterospora research offered to study plant DNA spoke to Nelson’s deep interest in environmental issues. She also enjoys the insights genetics provides into a variety of organisms, from plant to animal.

“Genetics (BIO 210) has been my favorite class at Centre,” she says. “I like looking at things on a microscopic scale. It’s like going into a whole different world.”

Nelson credits Klooster with “jump starting” her pursuit of research. As a result of her experience in his lab, she was able to spend three summers at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, in Louisville, where she worked on developing preventative vaccines and drugs for cancer. She will return to the cancer center lab this summer before starting medical school at the University of Louisville in the fall.

She says that the most significant lesson she has learned from her various research experiences is the importance of patience and perseverance.

“You can put a lot of effort and work into something, and you may not receive the results that you want,” she says. “Be persistent, and try different approaches or do more trials. The research isn’t instantly gratifying, but the end results are well worth the wait.”

Nelson is one of seven John C. Young Scholars at Centre. Now in its 25th year, the program provides funding and two terms of course credit for independent research and study, with a concluding symposium in April. The name honors Centre’s fourth president, who helped establish Centre as a leading institution of higher education.

Nelson warns that the magnitude of a John C. Young project requires discipline and excellent time management skills, but she thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work on a project that after four years had become “near and dear to my heart,” she says.

And then there’s the incalculable value of independent study.

“Most of the time you [can] take classes you are interested in, but the JCY project is exactly what you are interested in,” she says. “You can mold your own project.

“How cool is that?”

 by Diane Johnson