Hi, my name is Preston Jones, and I am a senior chemistry/biochemistry major at Georgia Regents University. I have the privilege of sharing with you my experience as an undergraduate researcher at Baylor University this summer. The program I am participating in is funded by the National Science Foundation and is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site.
Back in March of this year, I received the email that I was accepted to work in the research lab of Dr. Michael Trakselis this summer at Baylor University. This was exciting news because after applying to about 15 programs, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into one of them. Fast forward through all the excitement and anticipation and here I am, finished with the first week of my 10-week program.
I left my home in Columbus, Georgia, last Saturday and drove to Waco, Texas, over the course of two days. I arrived around noon on Sunday. This REU program accepts only eight out of hundreds of applicants, and so I arrived and was able to meet the other seven students who were sharing in my excitement. We spent Sunday getting moved into our apartments, which are only a short walk from the Baylor Science Building, the building where we will all be spending most of our time this summer. The school has been extremely kind to us already by putting us in very nice apartments for the summer so that our stay will be comfortable. Thankfully, since the NSF-REU program is nationally funded, this all comes at no charge to us.
On Monday, the program actually started. We met in the Chemistry Department office to learn our roles in the program and to go over how the program works. We met our graduate student mentors and went to get our Baylor ID cards. After going through the standard registration process, we were able to meet the PI (principal investigator) whom we would be working for all summer. Dr. Trakselis is my research professor, and I will be spending the summer working in his lab. He works mainly with DNA and the proteins that interact with it. In particular, he is currently looking at the mechanism of unwinding DNA by different helicases in the replication of DNA.
Thanks to my past mentors at GRU, Drs. Brian Dunn and Angela Spencer, I am equipped with most of the field’s techniques. This means that I am able to take on my own project here with minimal instruction. I will spend the summer working on creating specific mutations in the bacterial helicase DnaB and will be determining the effects of those mutations to better understand the mechanism of the helicase. I will do so using top-of-the-line equipment in the Baylor laboratory.
Part of the program teaches us how to use advanced laboratory equipment that prepares us for graduate school. For the chemists reading this article, I have already been trained to use a 600mhz NMR and an ssNMR. These instrumentation workshops are extremely interesting and gave me the opportunity to learn and work with new instruments.
So far, the program is extremely enlightening. I am being pushed to learn at a fast pace and to produce meaningful research independently. This summer’s research will fully prepare me both for graduate school and to bring back useful techniques to GRU’s Chemistry Department. I look forward to being able to elaborate on all the fun things happening here at Baylor this summer. But for now, it’s back to the lab!