A first-generation college student, Katherine Burgos came to ECSU as an undeclared major.
“I thought I wanted to pursue a career in medicine,” Katherine recalled, “but I didn’t know if I wanted to be a biology major. So I was referred to Dr. Groth, whose areas of study are molecular biology and pre-med. I met with her and she told me about her projects, which really got me interested in pursuing a career in biology. Professor Groth helped me realize that this path could also help me move into medicine.”
After their initial conversation, Katherine took two non-major courses in biology, which awakened her deep interest in the subject. In the second semester of her sophomore year, she enrolled in Professor Groth’s genetics class, an introductory level biology course.
After successfully completing the course, Dr. Groth offered Katherine a teaching assistantship in another genetics class being taught the following semester. Katherine accepted the professor’s offer with interest, and remembers her work as a TA fondly: “Helping students with their homework and helping Dr. Groth set up the lab for class helped open up my mind and made me want to do more. I became more and more interested in research and learning more about the biology field.”
Professor Groth picked up on Katherine’s interest, noticing her natural affinity for the subject. After the assistantship concluded, Professor Groth invited Katherine to take part in her research lab, through which she could earn independent study credit .
Katherine has been working in the lab for three semesters now. Her research with Professor Groth focuses on microscopic worms, called C. elegans, and the effects of simulated microgravity on the worms. “What we want to know is how much gravity affects the worms because when astronauts go into space and return to earth, they experience motor systems disorders and a decline in mental efficiency. So we’re interested to find out the extent to which gravity affects the worms, and how we can apply this knowledge to reduce the risk experienced by astronauts.”
The project, which began as a shared idea among professors, has evolved greatly since Katherine first joined the lab. With each experiment the group has conducted, they have gained new scientific insight and shifted their goals accordingly. To support the ongoing project, Dr. Groth and Katherine worked together to secure funding through grants offered by NASA. Of the three grants available from the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, Katherine was able to secure two grants for their project. This funding has made their continued research together possible. Their constantly evolving project has brought many discoveries and questions that have enhanced Katherine’s education and contributed to her future career path.
As a direct result of her research experience, Katherine also was presented with the opportunity to work as a student intern at Pfizer, a biopharmaceutical corporation with research headquarters in Connecticut.
Katherine took full advantage of the learning opportunities at Pfizer during her time there, thanks to practical skills she attained through her work with Dr. Groth.
“This past summer when I went to Pfizer, I was ahead of the game compared to other interns because I knew of lab techniques through our research,” Katherine said. “So as I move forward with my career goals, I believe I will use what I’ve learned here. I’ll build on what I learned here, and will continue to use these skills for the rest of my career.”
During Katherine’s time at Pfizer, she interacted with scientists, commissions, administrative staff, and performed research. She was also able to learn new techniques and skills. “While conducting research at Pfizer, I became familiar with performing gene report assays, working with tissue culture cells, and I became acquainted with transfections, plasmids prep, and transformations.” These are techniques that might not be available for many undergraduates to learn, but through her opportunity in the lab with Professor Groth, Katherine was able to acquire advanced knowledge in the biology field.
Katherine’s research with Professor Amy Groth has garnered attention from science professionals nationwide. With Professor Groth’s encouragement and guidance, Katherine has presented posters on their work at the Eastern CREATE Conference, which is Eastern Connecticut State University’s undergraduate research & creative activity conference, and the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society Regional Undergraduate Conference. She also presented a poster on her research at last summer’s Society for Developmental Biology 75th Annual Meeting/International Society of Differentiation 19th International Conference.
These presentation experiences allowed Katherine to develop invaluable communication skills. “I’m a very shy person,” she said, “but these really helped me work on my communication skills. All the conferences were made up of different audiences – scientists, only graduate students, students with doctorates – so presenting at those conferences required different ways of communicating my research. Also, presenting at the national level really allowed me to see what is out there and what the real world really looks like in the field. So I gained a lot of insight through these experiences Dr. Groth presented to me.”
Katherine graduated from ECSU in December 2016 and has a bright outlook on her future post-graduation. She looks forward to further work in the biology field post-graduation, hopefully in a research laboratory. She anticipates applying to medical school in the future.
As her mentor, Dr. Groth has made a great impression on Katherine and it is one that she will carry with her into the future: “I don’t think that I would have achieved what I have without Dr. Groth. I think that she really motivates me and inspires me to be a better person and a better biologist like she is. I look up to her and I look up to my professors who are great and they motivate me to be a better person each day.”