August 21, 2017
Communications and Marketing
When they return to the Hilltop in September, the 25 students who spent their summers conducting research in the college's labs through the New Hampshire INBRE Program will have more than a poster to show for their hard work.
New Hampshire IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (NH-INBRE) funds the work of "outstanding biomedical researchers," students and professionals alike, to promote top-level biomedical research and research training in New Hampshire.
But this summer's research is not just about the data. Wierda explains that the peer collaboration, acquired skill set, and professional growth that NH-INBRE fosters among students are also central to the program. Every Thursday, students and mentors met for lunch, where each week a new student presented research in three to five minutes. On August 14 and 15, all students funded by the grant program were invited to present their summer work at the state-wide conference.
"The conference is a nice opportunity for them to meet their peers from other schools and practice their elevator speech," Wierda says.
Biochemistry major Andrew Bompastore '18 knows his elevator speech like the back of his hand; this is his third summer researching through INBRE. Under biology professor Daniel Broek, Bompastore is using fission yeasts as a model for human cells, investigating the survival of mutant yeasts — similarly to how mutant cancer cells grow and thrive.
"I like applying what I learn in classes," Bompastore says. "I get to use the actual techniques and see how they pertain to the real world."
Bompastore spends his summers and about 10 hours per week during the school year participating in cancer research, which he says is going well so far. "I like that my research benefits a large group of people; even though we're a small school, it feels like I'm contributing," says Bompastore. After graduation, he wants to continue doing clinical research in medical school, with the dream to work as a medical doctor while performing research as a physician.
Natural science major Amanda Desimone '19 and psychology major Marie Bonin '18 are seeing their studies come to life before their eyes as well. Desimone is using a dataset to research the positive association between exercise and cognition in adults, while Bonin, using the same dataset, is looking at how adaptive coping mechanisms and stress impact cognition, specifically in cancer patients.
The two are mentored by psychology professor Elizabeth Rickenback, who is conducting her own research this summer on how adults cope and adjust to retirement. Desimone and Bonin have also helped Richenback transcribe her first-person interviews, yet another skill to add to their metaphorical "toolboxes."
"I'm using what I learned [in the classroom] in my research," says Bonin, "and now I really understand and am able to take my work to the next level."
Desimone, for whom this is a first-time research setting experience, agrees, saying that she is "learning along the way," and that collaborating with Bonin and Professor Rickenbach has been a highlight of her experience.
The Mentorship Difference
Each student with an INBRE grant works one-on-one with a faculty-advisor who is an expert in his or her field.
Senior nursing major Hannah Pirozzoli is working with Professor Deb McCarter — the only Saint Anselm faculty member funded by INBRE — in a study about postpartum depression and stress for new mothers. In their third year of a three-year study, together, Pirozzoli and McCarter are testing a system that might help resolve some of the difficulties new families face after birth.
"I think it's really important to involve nursing students in research," says McCarter. "I believe nurses are the right kind of people to do this work, because nursing is really interdisciplinary in nature, and when you involve students in the beginning they better understand what nursing research is."
McCarter continues, "They can see first-hand how nursing research helps to solve problems and improve care, which makes it more accessible to them, and more connected to their clinical experience as well."
Psychology majors Stephanie Modrak '19 and Taylor Francis '18 are studying the impact exercise has on human learning, self-efficacy, and memory. With psychology professor Paul Finn, Modrak and Francis tested groups of middle and high school runners during cross country clinics as the runners performed different types of exercise throughout the day. Modrak and Francis designed the tests, conducted the clinics, and analyzed the data themselves.
"Doing research myself has given me a great sense of patience and appreciation for the ‘behind the scenes' aspect of science," says Francis. "When reading published literature, it is a quick way of obtaining a deeper understanding of the material, but when you build a research study, you are faced with many challenges and obstacles you do not account for up front."
Francis adds, "Learning how to manage these obstacles and work with them the best you can has been one of the greatest takeaways for myself this summer. There might be bumps and bruises but we learn from those. It is fun to learn and see data first hand. I'm so thankful Professor Finn has mentored us along the way."
Next-level undergraduate research opens doors for Saint Anselm students during their academic careers and beyond.
Although she graduated in May, alumna Elizabeth Gallagher '17 is developing her psychology research from her senior thesis through the INBRE grant. Gallagher is working with Professor Elizabeth Rickenbach to publish her work on spousal caregiving for individuals with dementia and other physical disabilities. This will establish Gallagher's research in the professional sphere, inserting her in the critical conversation of her field.
It is also directly connected to her next career and life steps; this fall, Gallagher will attend the University of Massachusetts Boston to complete a doctoral program in gerontology.
The experience students gain from their work in the labs, presenting at conferences, and being published in academic journals can help them gain admission to graduate school or find their first jobs. Alumnus Nicholas Bompastore '16, also a former INBRE grant recipient, is earning his M.D. at the University of Vermont, while fellow recipient Catherine Muldoon '17 is continuing her education at the University of Northern Colorado, and Sierra Swords '16 is earning her Ph.D. at Rutgers.
Photo, students conduct research in the psychology lab, from left, Taylor Francis '18, Amelia McCue '18, and Stephanie Modrak '19
Story by Jasmine Blais '17