Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summertime Science

As a small liberal arts college, Macalester’s dedication to the natural sciences is often underestimated. What many don't realize is that science students at Macalester learn from highly motivated professors and work side-by-side with them conducting research. Macalester ranks #1 among its peer institutions for National Science Foundation grants per capita; four out of five science majors conduct their own original research during their time at Mac. Also, the recently renovated Olin-Rice science complex now offers each faculty member his or her own lab space in which to conduct research, working with state-of-the-art equipment.

Students frequently work full time during the summer in one of the Macalester labs, their work often resulting in capstone and honors thesis, or even peer-reviewed published articles. This summer more than 30 international students are carrying out their own research, in areas ranging from Computer Science to Astronomy and Psychology. 

Students are also working at the University of Minnesota, and as far away as the California Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona. This opportunity allows them to work closely with professors and be entirely dedicated to their projects. Weekly Friday barbecues for all science researchers are an added perk of the summer program.

Following are the experiences of four international students currently carrying out their own research.

Akilah Sykes
Majors/minors: Chemistry and French majors, Biology minor, Biochemistry concentration

Other campus activities:
Caribbean Students’ Association, Afrika!, dancing, building manager

I am a Research Assistant in the Immunology lab run by Professor Devavani Chatterjea of the Biology Department. This year we have been focusing on establishing a mouse model of vulvodynia, which is an illness that causes unexplained vulvar pain in women. The work I do this summer will form the basis for my capstone presentation next spring. We also hope to have some articles published about the research.

Research at Mac: Macalester has afforded me opportunities to do research for the last two summers (in Devavani’s lab and with Professor Vitiello in the French Department). The research done on this campus is new and competitive on a global scale, and the professors trust to carry out this research under their instruction. That is not something about which many universities and colleges even in the U.S. can boast.

Student-faculty relationships at Mac: Since class sizes are fairly small, the professors are very accessible. If you are really struggling with something, you can go to them and ask questions. I have found them very willing to engage with students. When it comes to research, they are happy to have students in their labs and to teach them the theory and the practice of research. They mentor the students and give us windows into the world of research.

Vidarith Chan ‘14 (Pursat, Cambodia)

Majors/minors: Economics and Applied Mathematics

Other campus activities: Macalester Development Group (MDG), badminton, weightlifting

Research: “Working conditions in the non-export apparel factories in Cambodia.” I will research whether working conditions in the non-exporting factories are worse than those in the exporting factories, as some previous researchers have reported. I will collect my data in Cambodia this summer and use the data for my economics honor project.
Last summer, I spent much of my time reading about Cambodia in order to better understand my country’s economy. I enjoyed the research and decided I would love to do the same thing and thus contribute to the study of Cambodia’s economy. Because I knew Professor Robertson was doing research in Cambodia, I asked to work with him. I began collaborating with him on an independent project e during the fall of 2012.

Research at Mac:  Most economics professors at Mac are active in doing research as well as teaching students. I feel privileged to work with Professor Robertson, who is enthusiastic about students getting research experience.

Student-faculty relationships at Mac: Many people would agree with me that professors here at Mac are passionate about their respective fields. They want their students to do well and are willing to listen and to help guide their academic paths

Francis Gwandu ’15 (Singida, Tanzania)

Majors/minors:​ Chemistry major & Economics minor

Other campus activities:​ Afrikan! Chorus, Afrika!, Mac Volleyball, Macalester Investment Group (MIG) & Caribbean Students Association (CSA)

Research: ​Applications of Bis(trimethylsilyl)acetylene in 1,2,3-Triazole Synthesis
I will be investigating a complementary protocol through which reaction of azide compounds with bis(trimethylsilyl)acetylene produces 1,2,3-triazoles bearing no silicon atoms and just a single substituent on one of the three triazole nitrogen atoms. I will be working on campus in Olin-Rice and will travel to the University of Washington to participate in the 43rd National Organic Symposium.

Last summer I conducted research with chemistry professor Tom Varberg, using lasers to study bonding between tantalum atoms and oxygen atoms. After  
taking Introductory Organic Chemistry I spoke to Professor Ronald Brisbois about working in his lab and he agreed. I hope to continue the research through my third and fourth years at Macalester, ideally compiling a body of results that can be written up and submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed chemistry journal.

Research at Mac: Mac, being the research-intensive institution it is, offers plenty of opportunities for students to work side by side with professors to put into practice what they’ve learned in class. Research provides an amazing platform for creating both working and personal relationships with professors and fellow students.

Student-faculty relationships at Mac: The student-faculty dynamic has definitely contributed to my positive experience at Mac. Professors are supportive, friendly and always have time for students. They encourage learning and make it fun.

Mihaela Barokova ‘15 (Sofia, Bulgaria)

Majors/minors: Psychology and German Studies

Other campus activities: This spring I took part in the first Sustained Dialogue leadership training at Macalester.

Research: I am a research assistant for the Psychology Department in the Macalester College iLab. I am actively involved in all the experiments that are conducted in the iLab. I am being trained on how to run studies using our eye-tracker, how to program and design experiments, how extract and analyze data, etc.
I received the Parchem Fellowship, established by Macalester alumni to support student-faculty research in psychology at Macalester. By the end of this research experience I hope to have found a topic to pursue for my capstone or honors project.

Research at Mac: I think Macalester students are provided with amazing opportunities to do research. As long as they are motivated and willing to invest their time and effort, there will always be professors to help them find research opportunities.

Student-faculty relationships at Mac: Student-faculty relationships at Mac are great. Professors here are always willing to give you advice, to encourage your interests, and to urge you to broaden your horizons. And of course they are always ready to challenge you academically and help you grow as a student and a researcher.