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Oct. 8, 2014

Undergrads, grads and research, oh my

Oct. 8, 2014

He walked into my office with a confidence well beyond his years and said, “I want to learn how to write science so that regular people can understand it.”

He had contacted me by email earlier asking if our office had any student writer positions open. I told him, that, unfortunately, we were full for the semester. He asked if he could come by anyway just to pick my brain a bit and I agreed.

So there he was, dressed like he was there for an interview, resume in hand and a palpable desire to learn. It took me all of about three minutes before I decided that I had to find some way for this impressive young man to work in our office that semester.

We get absolutely fantastic interns to work for us. Most of them come through the School of Journalism in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and they’re excellent writers. We usually find them with the help of referrals from a couple of professors in the college.

Anzar was different. He sought us out on his own because he wanted to learn to write like a journalist but didn’t have any more room in his schedule for classes. See, he wasn’t majoring in journalism. He wasn’t even in CAS. Anzar was majoring in neuroscience. Neuroscience majors normally don’t walk through our doors looking for work. Even more fascinating was the fact that he was earning a minor in theatre. Neuroscience and theatre? He also had been working on a research project with a professor in the Department of History—and now he wanted to learn how to be a writer too. Who was this multi-layered, talented young man?

The more I learned about him in that short conversation, the more impressed I was. (Frankly, it also took me all of about three minutes to feel pretty inadequate as well!) Anzar was an international student, but had fully immersed himself in the MSU experience. He was a resident hall mentor. He was a campus tour guide for potential students. He was on Model United Nations. He worked to bring more international students out of their comfort zones and try new things. He spoke multiple languages flawlessly and had gone to Oxford to work on his undergraduate research project. (You’re feeling inadequate too now, aren’t you?)

We found room for him as a student writer and he dove into it with tenacity and a ferocious desire to learn everything he could. In an office full of journalists, writers and social science majors, having someone who really understood the fine points of science was a great benefit. We taught him AP style, he dissected science papers.

We gave him an assignment to find an interesting way to describe a new scientific field and he created a cool video using a program he figured out, his own voiceover and by drawing everything himself because, of course, he’s also a bit of an artist.

As I mentioned, Anzar was an undergraduate student who was already doing research with faculty. He’s just one of many who took the opportunity to do the kind of research work that undergrads don’t always get to do. But, here at MSU, undergrads get the unique opportunity to jump right into research that they’re passionate about.

Anzar wanted to write about that opportunity so he interviewed four other undergrads who were pursing their passions through research at MSU and wrote an
MSUTODAY FEATURE: Cultivating Curiosity. Anzar has since graduated and is now pursuing his doctorate in neuroscience at Emory, but I think you’ll see after reading his piece that he definitely can add accomplished writer to his resume.

The four students he featured are just as impressive as he is. Our undergrads pretty much rock.

So do our graduate students. Like Kelvin Kamfwa, a graduate student from Zambia pursuing a doctorate in plant breeding, genetics, and biotechnology. Kelvin hopes that he can take what he learns at MSU and return to Zambia where he can improve the lives of farmers and families. Check out his video in the STUDENT VIEW: Multiplying Benefits with Biotech to learn more about him.

He is just one of thousands of outstanding graduate students you can find on MSU’s campus and the second student being profiled in the project, The Grad Factor.

Kelvin works closely with James Kelly, a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, who has been developing new bean varieties for almost 40 years. I got to spend some time with Dr. Kelly in Rwanda last year and the work he does is incredible and inspiring. In true Spartan fashion, he doesn’t just do research, but is actually in the trenches, getting his hands dirty while changing lives. He also takes his role as teacher very seriously and has given countless students the knowledge and skills they need to carry on his work all over the world. Read his FACULTY VOICE: Harvesting Rewards of Research, to learn more about this brilliant, yet humble, professor.

The next time you read something about the sorry state of young people or college students, think twice. Think about Anzar and Kelvin and the other impressive Spartans you read about—these young people are truly going to change the world for the better.

Spartans Will.

Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday


Photo by Derrick L. Turner


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