Learning to Love Research
Ashley Chabot ’13 grew up seeing first-hand how medical conditions could disrupt childhood.
Chabot’s brother, younger by only 360 days, had Rickets, which required frequent surgeries, and a cousin had medical issues that slowed her development.
These childhood experiences stuck with the McNair Scholar, and combined with her intensive summer research experiences at Earlham, they propelled her to pursue a career in integrated biomedical science.
“Integrated biomedical science is a wide open, umbrella-like term that includes a wide variety of research interests,” she says. “I came here thinking of becoming a pediatrician but was introduced to research at Earlham, and this has reshaped my ideas a bit.”
Connecting research with medicine
Chabot admits that before coming to Earlham she did not understand exactly how medical doctors and researchers with Ph.Ds. might work together.
“I simply thought there was the M.D. and the Ph.D.,” she says. “I didn’t see how the two might interact with each other. The M.D.s know the symptoms and what problems affect the symptoms, while the Ph.D.s try to figure out why and how to fix the problems. I have learned that where I really want to work is in a children’s research hospital because that’s where M.D.s and Ph.D.s are working together.”
Her first taste of this sort of research came during two summers she spent refining the annotations of the malaria genome with Associate Professor of Biology Peter Blair.
“We worked to ensure that the gene sequences were correctly annotated,” she says. Research involved bioinformatics and RNA extraction, and then reporting the findings to the online database PlasmoDB. She enjoyed the first summer research experience so much that she signed on for a second summer.
“I had more responsibility during the second summer,” she says. “I was able to teach the other students and answer their questions. Peter got to sit back a little more and let me answer questions and problem solve a little more.”
Preparation for graduate school
She feels like the two experiences have made her a better candidate for the 10 graduate schools to which she has applied.
“The big thing is the hands-on experience of doing a project like this — starting at step one and following it all the way to the end,” she says. “It is really incredible to take one segment of DNA and see it all the way through the entire process.”
Chabot says it is equally gratifying to know that the work has already made valuable contributions to science.
“There are a couple of groups working on vaccines, and they need the right sequences,” she says.
Chabot did not even consider applying to Earlham until the football coach at her high school recommended she consider it. She was manager of the team, and the coach suggested Earlham might be a match. Upon visiting, Chabot felt it was a perfect match. She also enjoyed being football team manager so much that she has continued all four of her years at Earlham.
“I really like the community it builds,” she says. “Being around the football field and football players, it’s a whole different atmosphere than the strictly academic side. I have gotten to know more people on campus, and I have learned from it as well.
“As football manager, you do anything the coaches ask. During games I work with [Athletic Trainer] Bill Kinsey. I fill water bottles, help with taping before games, get ice, crutches whatever the need may be. The players see me as another resource; if Bill isn’t there they can ask me a simple question.”
The McNair Program helps low-income, first generation college students and those from under-represented racial and ethnic groups prepare for graduate study. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the program offers students special monitoring and requires them to complete a summer research experience.