New fellowship offers undergraduate research opportunities
Thanks to the family of a former professor, undergraduate Danae Schulz spent her summer doing genetic research in a biology laboratory and now knows for certain what she wants to do when she graduates.
Schulz is Tufts' first Carpenter Fellow, an undergraduate chosen to do research and work with a professor for a 10-week period. The program is named for former biology professor Russell Carpenter, A24, and was endowed by his two children, Dr. Cynthia McFadden and Dr. Russell F. Carpenter. Their father, known as Bud, was a member of the biology department from 1938 to 1969. He died in 1991 at the age of 89.
Schulz was chosen out of 20 applicants to work in the lab of Catherine Freudenreich, assistant professor of biology.
Schulz said after she graduates, she will apply to graduate school and hopes to continue studying biology and become a researcher. "When you just take classes, it's hard to know if the life of a researcher is for you," she said. "The summer project was key in helping me decide that this will be my career path."
Schulz, who is from Arizona, is in the fourth year of a five-year degree program and will graduate with a B.S. in biology and a B.M. in violin performance, which she is studying at the New England Conservatory under a joint program with Tufts. During the summer, after spending her days in the lab, Schulz would practice the violin for a few hours each evening. Before she graduates, Schulz will have completed a senior project and will also perform a senior recital.
Schulz called the fellowship "invaluable," not only because it helped her decide that she wants to be a researcher, but because "I had the opportunity to work closely with a professor active in the field…I learned how to do all sorts of different procedures and learned many lab techniques. I also had the privilege of getting to know the others in my lab and thus benefit from their knowledge and experience."
For her part, Freudenreich said she enjoyed having Schulz in her lab and noted that the summer is an especially good time for students to do research because they are not distracted by a full schedule of classes. "Having an undergraduate work on a project is integral to my research," she said, speaking of Schulz and other students who have worked with her. "They can work at the level of graduate students, and I have had significant contributions from undergraduates. It's fun for me to see their enthusiasm and to help to spark it."
Schulz worked with Freudenreich on a project that is in the second year of funding under a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Freudenreich's laboratory is using yeast to study human genetic disease. In particular, Freudenreich is looking at repetitive DNA sequences that can expand to cause at least 14 inherited diseases, including Huntington's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder, and Fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited mental retardation. She uses yeast because researchers know the sequence of its genome and because it is relatively easy to manipulate genetically.
One characteristic of the kind of repeats Freudenreich is studying is that the chromosome breaks more frequently at regions containing the repeated sequence. Her lab is studying the basis for chromosome fragility and its implications for cell growth and survival.
Freudenreich said usually only a small percentage of students find the time to do lab work. "Students give it a try and find it rewarding, and a few find they really love it and do it semester after semester. Some may go to medical school and not do research as a career, but this will help them evaluate research when they are reading about it later. It's always especially rewarding when someone loves it and wants to make it their career."