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Oct. 18, 2016

Laura Hesse: Culturing a passion

Oct. 19, 2016

Laura Hesse is a junior majoring in microbiology from Madison, Indiana., and a College of Natural Science Dean’s Research Scholar.

I have been interested in science from a young age, and always assumed that my future career would somehow involve studying the natural world. At Michigan State University, I began my college career as a chemistry major because chemistry is a broad scientific field with a variety of careers, specializations, and opportunities for further study available. However, it wasn’t until last summer that I really discovered my scientific passion. 

During the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, at Vanderbilt University. This 10-week experience in the field of chemical biology allowed me to work full time in a research lab, participate in development workshops and attend presentations by Vanderbilt chemistry and biology faculty.

As a chemistry major with both class and research experience in chemical laboratory methods, I was initially nervous about being placed in a microbiology lab. It took less than a week for that apprehension to vanish. From learning the basics of aseptic technique and streaking strains to learning how to alter the growth conditions and select for specific phenotypes, I discovered that I love microbiology research. Not even a trip to the local sewage treatment plant to collect samples dissuaded my interest. That’s when I knew the study of microbiology was for me. It’s fascinating to observe a translucent solution become cloudy overnight as microorganisms perform complex processes that allow them to proliferate in the media. Even more alluring is the thought that studying pathogenic microorganisms in laboratories will help alleviate the suffering they cause in the world. 

My experience working in a microbiology lab last summer helped me determine that I want to continue studying microbiology, leading to a change in my undergraduate major as a junior and a desire to pursue a doctorate.

Additional aspects of the summer, including interactions with current graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty, attending the Midwest Microbial Pathogenesis Conference and hearing lectures from professors about their work in cutting edge, interdisciplinary research encouraged me to want to continue academic research as a university professor after obtaining a doctorate.

My experiences taught me that I thoroughly enjoy designing research strategies to answer biological questions, carrying out those designs in an effective manner and communicating the results with others. These characteristics will benefit me as I continue to study microbes during the rest of my undergraduate career, in graduate school, and beyond.