Transfer point

Hands-on research experience can be hard to come by for transfer students, but a CBS program is changing that.

Arnaud Batchou and Ilya Baranov both transferred to the U of M with aspirations to work in healthcare, the former as a pharmacist and the latter as a physician. Neither had collegiate-level research experience, and unlike their CBS peers who started at the college as first-year students, the window of opportunity to add research experience to their résumé (and their grad school applications) was significantly narrower.

A 2010 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant provided the college with the funding to develop hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate transfer and non-science major students. The program that resulted is a research apprenticeship of sorts in which undergraduate transfer students are paired with post-doctoral research mentors who help jump-start their lab experience.

Through the HHMI program, Baranov and Batchou were both paired with Maureen Quin, a post-doctoral research associate in the lab of Professor Claudia Schmidt-Dannert. For the past year, they’ve studied biosynthetic functions to build an anti-cancer precursor.

For Batchou, a junior studying biochemistry, research wasn’t the easiest step. “Going in, you’re kind of scared, thinking that I don’t want to screw up,” says Batchou. “But it’s intriguing and fun. There’s some excitement to it because you come in and you want to see if your experiment worked.”

Batchou still plans to go on to pharmacy school after graduating, but now he’s considering adding research to the mix. “I can see myself potentially doing research,” says Batchou. “It’s fun.”

Baranov, a junior biology major, not only got critical lab experience, but he also learned about key components of university-level research.

“This was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door,” says Baranov. “It’s something that just broadens my horizons. I’ve learned how to communicate in a scientific context, how to work in a lab, and how to understand the dynamics of grad students, mentors and faculty.”

The program not only provided Batchou and Baranov with research experience, it gave Quin the chance to hone her teaching skills.

“I feel like HHMI is nice because you have day-to-day interaction with the students. You get feedback from them and you can give them feedback,” says Quin. “It’s a good way to learn how to adapt your teaching methods.”

Quin has observed the progress Batchou and Baranov have made since the beginning of the program.

“I noticed a huge change from the start of the program to now in that they’re much more confident in their own abilities,” says Quin. “Not just the techniques, but in their own knowledge, their own intelligence and being able to think through problems, come up with ideas themselves and be creative.”

— Lance Janssen