by Marina Smoske, Editor-in-Chief
Kimberly Abt has many reasons to be proud. An honors student, she is currently completing her thesis and will graduate this spring. She is also celebrating acceptances to the Molecular Cell Biology graduate programs at Dartmouth College and Brown University, and is deciding precisely where her passion for biology will take her next.
What truly sets Kimberly apart from most of her peers is how she arrived at a place with such momentum for a bright future: Kimberly has studied at BSU for a total of seven years.
“I have a very weird trajectory,” she explained. “I was actually a physical education major for my first four years!”
Kimberly was considering moving on to study physical therapy, until taking several science courses her senior year changed her path completely.
“I was thinking, I need to take all of these science courses for prerequisites. And then I realized that this is for me! This is what I want to do, and I ended up changing my major to biology my last semester of senior year.”
In those seven years, there was no shortage of new experiences for Kimberly to pursue, and she took advantage of many opportunities to enrich her academic experience. Her stint as a physical education major earned her a CRC Press Chemistry Achievement Award, a prestigious honor given to the top 1% of general chemistry students by grade point average at colleges and universities across the country. She has also been awarded a Bartlett Scholarship, which she used to complete an internship as a research assistant in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, and an Adrian Tinsley Program (ATP) Summer Research Grant from the BSU Undergraduate Research Office.
“In Scotland, I was working with post-mortem human cortical tissue and conducting immunohistochemistry on that- it uses antibodies to fluorescently label tissue and examine what proteins are there. Specifically, it was two proteins of interest in Alzheimer’s disease.”
Kimberly has also undertaken several undergraduate research endeavors at BSU under mentor Dr. Kenneth Adams of the Biological Sciences department. Speaking about her work, her passion is palpable.
“I work with cells in culture- those are cells grown in a little dish. Cells are essentially little complex bags of organic molecules. How these molecules interact determines cell behavior, and cell behavior determines how our bodies function- how I’m speaking right now, how diseases happen, all of that. So, I take it down to a very small level and look at it. How are certain proteins interacting, and what effect does this have on cell behavior?”
Having committed countless hours to her research, one of Kimberly’s most rewarding experiences during her undergraduate career was sharing her work with experts in her field.
“I presented my data at a conference last November at the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) in Washington, D.C. I presented a poster there, which was really exciting. I love standing up in front of people and talking about my research, but it was a whole new audience at SFN because you’re talking to professional scientists.”
Despite her demanding workload, Kimberly was happy to help other students achieve academic success, serving as a Peer-Assisted Learner (PAL) for four different science courses. While many students might see investing extra time into their undergraduate experience as simply piling on more work, Kimberly sees it as a chance to harness the support and resources available at BSU.
“What’s different about me is the timeline. Bridgewater was a place where I could make a really atypical decision and make the most out of it. And I had so much support along the way from Dr. Shanahan, my research mentor, and the entire biology department. I don’t think I could’ve done what I’m doing in a lot of other places. I really appreciate the fact that I could do that here. I think it’s super unique that everyone I’ve worked with has been so enthusiastic in helping me do what I want to do.”
“But the running joke is that I’ll get my PhD faster than I got my undergraduate degree,” she added.
After seven years of hard work and even harder decisions, Kimberly’s undergraduate journey is a testament to the fact that unconventional academic paths can be richly rewarding. And for exactly that reason, Kimberly is adamant that she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I don’t have a life outside the lab- and I love it.”