Reflections on Undergraduate Research by Stacey Blanck '06
Before the summer of 2004, for me proteins were something I ate, not something I extracted from cells. I had never really questioned what they did, how they did it or fathomed that I would spend countless hours over two summers and a large portion of my senior year trying to uncover ways to engineer their interactions.
Now, almost five years after graduating from F&M, I am able to appreciate how much I learned over those two years in the lab. I remember wondering if I would ever know enough to successfully complete an experiment, let alone design the next phase of the project. As a 20-year-old newly branded college junior in the beginning of my undergraduate research career, it's safe to say I knew essentially nothing about working in a research lab or how critical choosing a good mentor would be to my success.
Luckily, I had the good fortune to find someone like Dr. Mehl who was excited to teach young college students how to pursue science at a level beyond that of an undergraduate. He prided himself on challenging us to be independent and work through problems on our own while simultaneously building camaraderie among the lab group members.
The summers I spent as a Hackman Scholar will always be very special to me. Not only did I grow intellectually but I also built lasting friendships that have endured the test of time and geography. Lab barbecues, department softball games and outings to the Pizza Hut buffet are among a few of the ways that the Chemistry Department summers were spent. Beyond the summers there are the memories of trips to conferences in San Diego and Atlanta that will always make me smile when I think back to navigating the San Diego zoo and underground Atlanta with my chemistry colleagues, or sharing a meal in Old Town San Diego with the department faculty.
Not surprisingly, some of my best friends and best memories of college are with people in the Chemistry Department, largely due to the nurturing and close-knit environment created by faculty. F&M is a place where professors not only know your name but they also know and care about your life outside of the classroom. It is my belief that the Franklin & Marshall faculty truly view their students' happiness and achievements as a reflection of their own personal success as they continue to invest countless hours and efforts towards helping students achieve their goals.
My four years at Franklin & Marshall will always hold a special place in my heart for one main reason—the people. Whenever I tell other friends and colleagues about my time at F&M, they are surprised to hear that my professors knew my name, let alone that I still keep in touch with members of the faculty like Dr. Mehl. I continue to look forward to my visits to F&M because it gives me a chance to catch up with the professors that I now consider my friends. After graduating most recently from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, I can say that the F&M experience is truly unique. Although I gained a fantastic medical education at Penn, I doubt I will ever find another college or university that fosters such a strong student-professor bond as Franklin & Marshall.
Now as a first year resident in internal medicine, I am able to reflect upon the knowledge and people that molded me into the physician that I am today. I can say with utmost certainty that the skills my research and overall F&M experience helped to foster are invaluable. Although I have not pursued a career specifically within the realm of chemistry, my time in the Mehl lab has certainly helped to enhance my ability to think critically, tackle complex problems and work independently as well as collaboratively.
The very nature of modern medicine is a team approach to solving the medical problem at hand and working together with others to provide the best patient care possible. Much like the lab, unexpected complications arise, challenging physicians to come up with creative approaches to patient care. Protocols are the frame-work to what we practice but the true art and mastery of medicine, much like scientific research, comes in the ability to identify a problem when it arises and think creatively about potential solutions or, in the case of medicine, therapeutic approaches. The medicine I practice today is largely evidence-based but there is most certainly a component of creative experimentation that comes into play with the difficult and complex cases I see at a place like Penn. And it is this creativity and ability to think outside the box that has led to advancement both in scientific research and medical therapies.
Almost four years have passed since I graduated from F&M, but research still continues to be a part of my education, and I know that it will be a lifelong part of my career as a physician as new frontiers in medicine continue to be forged. While I may no longer be purifying protein or growing cells in culture, I continue to use the skills I developed during my tenure at F&M both in the hospital and in life. And I know that the relationships I built with my friends and the faculty at F&M will continue to stand the test of time.