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HomeNewsMontana NewsMSU sends 17 student researchers to premier national conference

MSU sends 17 student researchers to premier national conference

BOZEMAN – Montana State University will send 17 students to one of the country’s premier celebrations of undergraduate research next week, where they will have the opportunity to present the research they have done in departments across the university.

The National Conference on Undergraduate Research, or NCUR, will be held April 8-10 in Long Beach, California, and will feature undergraduate researchers from institutions nationwide.

“MSU has long valued undergraduate research, but prioritizing opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research is now part of the university’s strategic plan,” said Anna Tuttle, interim director of MSU’s Undergraduate Scholars Program. “These students have created this opportunity through their own motivation and work, and they made it through a rigorous application process to present at NCUR. The chance to do the research in the first place is made possible by their mentors, and we at the USP are delighted to support their trip to Long Beach.”

MSU students from the colleges of Agriculture; Arts and Architecture; Education, Health and Human Development; Letters and Science and Engineering will present their work.

Wes Cousin, McKenna Quirk and Zoe Seaford will represent the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology. While all conducting research in the same department, Cousin, Quirk and Seaford work in different fields of microbiology. Cousin works alongside Mari Eggers, whose research focuses on environmental health and water quality; Quirk is a pre-veterinary student working in the lab of Diane Bimczok studying bacterial infections in sheep; and Seaford conducts research with Ed Schmidt, examining the metabolic pathways that help the body process sulfur – research that has possible future applications for cancer treatment.

All three students pointed to their mentors as cornerstones of their research experiences.

“When I was a freshman, I thought it would be incredibly difficult to get accepted into a lab. But I found that as long as I sent those emails, doors would open,” said Quirk, who is a senior from Missoula and will graduate this spring. “Faculty on campus are so incredibly kind. They’ll invite you to a lab meeting or give you a tour. It’s all about asking those questions and not being nervous.”

Seaford, who is also a member of MSU’s Hilleman Scholars program and originally from Lewistown, said the opportunities afforded by undergraduate research have shaped the trajectory of her MSU experience. She traveled to Budapest with Schmidt last summer, where she gained hands-on experience with mass spectrometry at an oncology institute. She said her time as an undergraduate researcher has helped her to see the larger picture that blossoms from the minutiae of laboratory work.

“There’s often a disconnect in research where people wonder ‘why is this relevant to me?’ but eventually we’ll be able to help and treat people with cancer through this work,” she said. “You have to do all these little things first in order to really get it to be applicable in the real world.”

Seaford will present that concept at NCUR, as will Cousin and Quirk with their own projects. In addition to student oral and poster presentations, the event will also include networking sessions and opportunities for undergraduate students to explore the many ways to continue their research through graduate school. Faculty-led sessions will offer insight into ongoing research, and professional development sessions will offer students resources for continued growth through their undergraduate careers and beyond.

“I’ve always been really interested in investigative research, trying to find out a cause or reason behind something,” said Cousin, who is originally from Georgia and whose project in Eggers’ lab examined contamination in a Montana watershed. “I want to do something along these lines one day, maybe in environmental law. The great thing about NCUR is the opportunity to present my research to representatives of different graduate school programs, scholarships and institutions in my field of research. It is a good feeling to be acknowledged for an academic achievement, such as NCUR.”

Connecting with faculty mentors at MSU has offered all three students both guidance and confidence when it comes to navigating research. They all hope to continue their studies into graduate school and pursue further research.

The supportive environment around undergraduate students conducting research was a pleasant surprise when she first arrived on campus, Seaford said. While Seaford has presented her work previously at conferences both at MSU and elsewhere, Quirk said NCUR will be her first chance to share and translate her work with students and faculty from across the country.

“Going to this research conference will give me a great experience not only in practicing my scientific communication skills, but also reaching out to other students who are interested in the same areas as I am so that I can have that network in the future,” she said. “That’s one thing I’ve found to be incredibly useful in the research world. If you have a colleague at another institution who’s interested in the same things you are, you can ask them questions and collaborate. Those connections are crucial.”

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