Summer Scholars: Hooked On Science

When, as a young toddler, Kelsey Kaeding became mesmerized by a live surgery channel on TV, her future path seemed set: She wanted to become a doctor. As part of a high school vocational immersion program, she shadowed a physician. In college, she was squarely on the premed track until she had an opportunity to explore hands-on bench research. And that was all it took…she was hooked on science.

Working with one of her professors (developmental biologist Patrick Ferree, PhD, at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California), Kaeding is pursuing an independent research project geared to finding out what factors in female heterochromatin interact and influence ring-X chromosome lethality.

During her summer breaks, when many undergrads like to while away the dog days of summer poolside, Kaeding dove headlong into even more research. In 2012, Kaeding spent the summer in a genome science program at the University of Washington in her hometown of Seattle and this summer participated in the Stowers Institute’s Summer Scholars Program.

Under the mentorship of Hawley Lab Research Specialist Stacie Hughes, PhD, Kaeding worked to narrow the location of a genetic mutation found somewhere on the third chromosome of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Being able to tease out the specific location is no small feat. The third chromosome is huge and contains many individual genes. To narrow down the location possibilities requires multiple two-generation genetic crosses that can take up to four weeks each—too long for a ten-week program. Still Hughes believes that Kaeding’s summer scholar work added great value to the larger project: “Kaeding was incredibly productive in analyzing the effects of the mutation on female meiosis.”

But more important to Hughes than characterizing a genetic mutation is Kaeding’s opportunity to determine if she wants to pursue science as a vocation. “The purpose of the scholars program is to help undergraduates learn if they like lab work. It is a chance to see what real science is all about,” says Hughes, who is optimistic that Kaeding will pursue bench science. “Kelsey came into the lab well-prepared. She was enthusiastic and inquisitive not just about her project, but about all the projects in the lab.”

From Kaeding’s perspective, science is looking promising and she is planning to apply to graduate school. “The Stowers Summer Scholars Program was a very positive experience. It definitely reinforced my decision to pursue science,” she says.