A True “Research” Success Story
The undergraduate academic career of Allison Eberly ’14, a current doctoral candidate in the biomedical sciences at Vanderbilt University, can be summed up in five words: research, research and more research.
Thanks to that research, Eberly was able to give 10 presentations during her time at CHC as a dual major in chemistry and molecular biology, attending such events as the Idaho IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Conference, the National American Chemical Society Meeting and Exposition, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education (SEPCHE) Honors Conference, among many others.
Also, through three unique internship opportunities, Eberly was exposed to both industrial and academic snapshots of practical research. She interned at Boise State University through the National Science Foundation (NSF), JRF America, and at CHC and Temple University through the SEPCHE Institutionalizing STEM Undergraduate Research Faculty-Student Research Project.
It should come as no surprise that, with the foundational knowledge CHC provided in chemistry and biology, the leadership opportunities she took advantage of and her one-on-one work in the labs, Eberly would attend graduate school, intent on a career in biomedical research.
“Ali is a fantastic, hardworking student who is a true success story about the power of research internships in the sciences,” says Karen Wendling, Ph.D., professor of chemistry. “She was an excellent candidate for graduate school.”
For Eberly, who has dreamed of becoming a doctor since childhood and who chose to attend CHC after being recruited to play volleyball, it all began with general chemistry or as the majors call it “gen chem,” a course that she advises should not be taken lightly.
“All of your foundational knowledge, everything that gets you started, you’ll learn in this course,” she says. “The sciences all depend on each other and you won’t be able to be a good biologist without understanding the chemistry behind it and vice versa.”
Possessing that strong background and understanding of the basic concepts of the natural sciences, Eberly enrolled in Wendling’s CHEM 230 Internship Seminar, designed to help students locate and apply for competitive summer science internships. Through this course, Wendling linked Eberly to the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, where she spent two consecutive summers interning at Boise State University (BSU), studying E. coli under the direction of Dr. Ken Cornell, an established associate professor of biochemistry.
“Working under Dr. Cornell was a great experience,” she says. “In his lab, we aimed to characterize the role of an enzyme that affects bacterial growth and biofilm formation by studying an E. coli mutant lacking this enzyme.”
In her second summer at BSU, Eberly mentored a first-year intern, giving her the chance to develop leadership skills and to teach in a laboratory setting.
The following summer, Eberly pursued two more experiences before graduating in May 2014. The first was with SEPCHE where she worked under Ken Soprano, Ph.D., professor of biology at CHC, and Diane Soprano, Ph.D., professor at Temple University’s School of Medicine. In this experience, Eberly worked with three other undergraduates and utilized bioinformatics approaches to identify genes whose expression is modulated during the differentiation of mouse pluripotent stem cells into endodermal and neuronal cells.
The second internship that summer was with JRF America.
“The industrial internship with JRF America was an excellent experience that opened my eyes to the differences between academic and industrial research,” Eberly says. “While I was unable to conduct independent research as an intern, I learned so much through observation and having the opportunity to assists with tasks such as sample preparation for contract-based agricultural chemistry research projects.”
An active student on campus, Eberly was a two-sport student athlete — on the women’s volleyball and cross country teams — a resident assistant for three years, co-president of the Chestnut Hill Activities Team, secretary of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and an inductee of four different honor societies. She did all of this while also earning distinction on the dean’s list and athletics academic honor roll nearly every semester as well as pursuing departmental honors in not just one, but in both of her majors.
If these accomplishments weren’t enough, Eberly also co-founded the College’s chemistry club, which continues to be an active club on campus, “fostering enjoyment and appreciation of the sciences,” according to Wendling.
Currently, Eberly is wrapping up her second full year at Vanderbilt, which will be her last involving coursework. For the next two to three years, she will devote her time and energy toward her thesis research project, meaning more time spent in the lab, something she is very much looking forward to.
“I absolutely love the hands-on work you get to do in lab, even if sometimes it can be a little frustrating,” she says. “Often, experiments fail several times before they work. But at the end of all the struggles, no matter how small the detail, you have found something novel that no one else in the world knows yet. That is pretty cool when you think about it.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14