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May 24, 2019

Jacqline Njeri: The need for something extra

May 29, 2019

Jacqline Njeri is a senior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology/biotechnology in the College of Natural Science. She is a College of Natural Science Deans Research Scholar.

In my freshman year at Michigan State, I dutifully did my homework, went to class and passed my exams — but that was all I was doing. I felt the need to accomplish more. The need for something extra. The need to contribute to a greater cause.

My interest in research budded from working as an undergraduate lab technician in Dr. David Mota-Sanchez’s lab in the entomology department. My main work was maintaining oriental fruit moth colonies and performing pesticide bioassays. I enjoyed planning the work, collecting data and assisting in data analysis.

A colleague and I also headed out to peach farms to collect moth larvae. Here, I could see the damage that oriental fruit moths cause and the losses incurred by farmers. Pesticide resistance is a major problem to such farms.

During my year in this lab, we tried to narrow down the lethal dose range of some of the commercial pesticides used to control the oriental fruit moth. We also planned to further understand pesticide resistance in these moths and how their populations could be reduced using other approaches. Our work helped me realize that science is more than collecting and analyzing data — it is finding solutions to real life problems.

My curiosity continued to grow with every class I took. I still wanted to do more and with MSU’s wide range of resources at my disposal — I was excited by the endless possibilities. From website directories to advisers, I had everything I needed to find a volunteer position where I could apply the biochemistry knowledge I was gaining from my classes.

Dr. Erich Grotewold’s lab in the MSU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was my next venture into science. The team I was on was quite new to MSU, and I was a curious undergraduate eager to learn. It was therefore natural that symbiosis took over. I volunteered in the lab and helped the team settle in. In return, I got training on some basic molecular biology techniques.

As I gained some foundation in molecular and plant lab work, I also learned professionalism, aspects of bioethics, scientific integrity and the importance of collaboration. These are values I would not have gotten in a class by itself (maybe through multiple classes).

It has been almost two years in this lab and the growth has been more than exponential. I continue to learn and apply these values in my projects and experiments. I now appreciate that science goes beyond the basic research — it is working with others and growing together.

With only a year left, I cannot help but appreciate the growth from the “robot” freshman I was, to this young scientist in the making, and from being just another student on the freshman class attendance list to becoming an undergraduate research assistant, an undergraduate research ambassador and a Dean’s Research Scholar.

Yes, I still do my homework, go to class and pass my exams, but now I can also say that I do research and participate more fully in all that is offered at Michigan State.