While some of his peers will be sleeping in or heading to the beach this summer, Preston Jones will be just where he wants to be – in a biochemistry lab at Baylor University.
Jones and approximately 10 other undergraduate researchers from around the country were accepted into Baylor’s Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.
“It’s basically one-on-one research with one of the professors there,” Jones said. “You’ll become part of their lab for the summer. To be selected was a huge honor in general, and to be selected by a well-known university is even better.”
Jones said there are only approximately 100 of these nationally funded programs in the country.
The professor he’ll be working with studies molecular mechanisms in DNA replication, which is exactly where Jones’ interests lie.
“I do DNR research here now, and a biochemist doing DNA research selected me because of that research,” he said.
Though only a junior, Jones has been actively involved in research for a long time
“Most undergraduates don’t think they can make a difference in research,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know that there are undergraduate research opportunities or how easy it is at a school like this to get into an undergraduate research facility. There are professors you can talk to, and if you’re well equipped, they’ll let you go to work in the lab. It’s a special opportunity.”
And logging that time in the lab is key to what comes next.
“All the teachers I’ve worked for and all the teachers I know of do a really good job of trying to make you independent in the lab,” he said. “If you want to go to grad school of any sort, that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for independence in the lab and your ability to deduct inferences and make inferences and take your research in your own direction rather than having someone behind you telling you what to do next.”
Dr. Angie Spencer, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, called Jones one of the top chemistry majors at GRU.
“He excels in his academic courses and has worked hard in two separate research labs here at GRU,” she said. “We are excited for him as he will have a chance to use the skills he has learned at GRU to be a part of a research project at Baylor.”
In April, Jones will give a talk at the National Center for Undergraduate Research convention at Gonzaga University in Washington, where Dr. Brian Dunn, the first teacher to get him into the lab, currently teaches.
While at Baylor, Jones, who is currently deciding between getting his PhD in chemistry or going directly to medical school, will be housed in dorms by the science building, be put on the meal plan, receive transportation to and from Waco, Texas, and earn a $4,000 stipend.
Though research isn’t the reason the Columbus, Georgia, native chose GRU, he certainly seems to have found his calling.
“I came here based solely on the fact that this school offered me a really good running scholarship and they had a really good team that I wanted to be a part of,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do academically yet, but it just so happened that I fell into science and medicine and we have a really awesome chemistry department here. Obviously, with the medical campus, there are some really awesome medical hook ups.”
He is convinced he was at the right place at the right time.
“I’ve changed completely since I got here,” he said. “These three years have been life changing.”