A portion of Annie's winning essay:
My interest in a career in scientific research springs out of an event that occurred during the summer after my sophomore year in high school. For two weeks that July I experienced an enticing taste of college life. Due to a special scholarship, I was allowed to enter the Summer Honors College at the University of Minnesota. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities of science. The program provided me with the chance to participate in two classes for college credit. Both classes were science-oriented and taught by two extraordinarily talented professors. In class my fellow students and I were challenged with class discussions about evolution and lengthy physics experiments exploring the mechanics of human motion. I realized that choosing a career that strives to explore and comprehend the world around me would comprise both the challenge and fulfillment that I desired from life.
Science is unique in that it allows us to explore the world around us, often without leaving the laboratory. By attending Summer Honors College I came to fully realize not only the excitement involved in discovery but also the awesome depth of knowledge still left to be uncovered. The natural world is filled with a multitude of secrets just waiting to be revealed. Being surrounded by young men and women who shared my thirst for understanding the unknown filled me for the first time with a sense of inspiration and belonging. I was stimulated to investigate a career in scientific research by choosing a major in biotechnology at college.Through the course of my freshman year, I began working on campus in the Psychology department. Through a twist of fate, I was allowed to work as a research assistant in a spatial attention laboratory. Through this experience I discovered that I immensely enjoy the research process and the fascinating area of brain research. Currently, I am completing a double major in biotechnology and psychology, with plans to utilize my training in both disciplines to study neuroplasticity from an interdisciplinary approach. I plan to continue my education to the doctoral level, and one day join the research community as a principal investigator. My unique, multidisciplinary background will allow me to lead a diverse and collaborative laboratory that can examine both the behavioral and neurological facets of brain plasticity.Leading this type of holistic approach to research will require that I possess an extensive knowledge of the biological and chemical functioning of the brain as well as a background in behavioral science. By securing double majors in biotechnology and psychology, I will obtain a solid background critical to my research interests. Biotechnology combines a wide variety of science disciplines including chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. The diversity of disciplines provides me with a strong foundation from which I can build my research in graduate school and beyond. A major in psychology provides me with the understanding of the behavioral aspects of brain function and dysfunction. In order for me to be able to adequately address the complexity of neuroplasticiy, an interdisciplinary methodology is essential. During my college career I have begun to develop the laboratory skills that will be required to investigate neuroplasticity using an interdisciplinary approach. I have gained research experience in a molecular biology weed science and genetics laboratory and in a pathogenic microbiology laboratory, both at North Dakota State University. While working as a research assistant in these labs, I have been learning and perfecting valuable laboratory bench skills that I will someday utilize in my own research. I have mastered a variety of techniques including Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCRs), PCR product purification, and primer design. In the weed science and genetics laboratory I worked on a research team investigating herbicide resistance genes. My role in the project was to clone specific suspected herbicide resistance genes into plasmids and transform the plasmids into host cells with the goal of creating large quantities of the suspected resistance gene. In the pathogenic microbiology laboratory I am currently working on a project to sequence the gene encoding for a specific attachment protein found in Cryptosporidium. By performing multiple PCRs with sets of primers that bind to homologous sequences across Cryptosporidium subspecies, we will be able to determine if the attachment protein confers host specificity.
Over the last two and a half years I have also worked in a cognitive visual attention laboratory in the Department of Psychology’s Center for Visual Neuroscience at North Dakota State University. I have been trained to operate the center's electroencephalogram (EEG) systems for event-related electrophysiological (ERP) recording experiments as well as a remote camera eye-tracking system for behavioral experiments. In the summer of 2006, I worked full time as the laboratory coordinator. My duties included training and supervising new research assistants, designing experiments, writing experimental programs, scheduling and supervising research participants, and analyzing data. I recently presented the results of some of my research at two local psychology conferences. My supervisor and I are now in the process of composing several manuscripts reporting the results of this research for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. I also recently completed and presented an honors thesis research project that examined the attentional orienting effects of several different types of spatial cues. Both areas of research, biology and neuroscience, have taught me the importance of a strong background in research methods as well as the value of hard work, discipline, and patience.
I have continued to expand my research experience at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota this summer as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow. I joined an interdisciplinary lab that examines colon and small intestine function and dysfunction. I am working directly under a neuroscientist in the lab, examining the affects of hydrogen sulfide as a signaling molecule. Previous work by the group has demonstrated that hydrogen sulfide is upregulated during colon inflammation. My project utilizes a mouse model of colitis (colon inflammation) to examine the effects of hydrogen sulfide on immune cell infiltrates. After collecting colon tissue, I am staining to determine what types of immune cells are recruited during inflammation and if the cell types differ for the treated versus control mice.
Choosing a career path in neuroscience research was only the first step on the journey to becoming a principal investigator. Through my research training both within and outside of the classroom I have gained a greater appreciation for the complexity and diversity of my prospective area. Working in neuroscience, genetics, and microbiology laboratories has given me valuable research skills in both of my fields of interest. My experience at Mayo Clinic has broadened my skill set and I look forward to further expanding my research proficiency. I will continue to strive to develop the range of my laboratory skills as well as the depth of understanding required to conduct interdisciplinary research.