Three Cities in Three Weekends: The Travels of an Undergraduate

First time for many things during my trip: first Dean’s Research Scholars event, first time on the Amtrak, first time in Chicago and first time learning about historical architecture. The Amtrak from East Lansing to Chicago took about 4 hours and during the ride, I talked to a MSU geography graduate student about coding in R. Also on the trip with me was Elizabeth, the DRS coordinator and Sarah, a senior zoology major. We met with Beck Jo once we arrived in Chicago. From the moment I walked out of Union Station and onto the street of downtown Chicago, I was amazed at how busy the city was. We finally went to our room in the newly renovated Chicago Athletic Association. It was absolutely beautiful and old timey.

The purpose for my Chicago visit was an event at Ross and Terri Rubino’s house in Park Ridge, IL (about 30 minutes north of the city). They were very gracious hosts and the event had good food and even better company. Approximately 20 guests attended and Sarah and I both gave informal speeches about our stories, MSU experiences, and research. My interaction with the alumni was priceless; they were interested, inquisitive, encouraging and praising. It was great to connect and talk to alumni who are still so invested in the university’s success.  I am continuously amazed by the support of alumni worldwide. I am happy and proud to attend Michigan State University and grateful for research opportunities that have allowed me to discover more about myself.

The next morning, the city was even more packed than the day before and we went on a historic architecture walking tour through the city. We learned how Chicago evolved into a trading hub and unique skyscraper mecca. We also walked through Millennium Park and saw the bean.

Selfie with the "bean" sculpture.

Selfie with the “bean” sculpture.

(Visit https://natsci.msu.edu/students/undergraduate/deans-research-scholars/meet-the-scholars/katherine-wozniak/ for my DRS profile!)

The following weekend, I attended the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium (GCURS) at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  I got in late on Friday night and the symposium was all day Saturday. I was the very first presentation during the first session. I gave a 12 minute talk on my latest experiment which aimed to further investigate if invasive M. polymorpha relies less on co-evolved rhizobia. For the rest of the day, I met many undergraduates from Texas and listened to a variety of talks from ecology to engineering. One particular presentation employed all of the best genetic techniques and thanks to my advanced microbiology lab and microbial genetics classes, I understood every word!

We toured the Bio Research Center (BRC) and got to see a majority of the campus during our walk to dinner. It was not hard to get used to the warm weather and sunshine. To my surprise, Houston was laid back compared to Chicago. All of the buildings at Rice have red roofs and there are a lot of red brick buildings—they even have a piece of the Berlin Wall. Although I was in Houston a short time, it was still an awesome experience. A big thank you to Rice University, Dr. Susan Cates and the GCURS for having me!

At Rice's BRC.

At Rice’s BRC.

Last but certainly not least, I presented a 10 minute PowerPoint to the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) MI branch meeting at University of Michigan. My talk was on the same experiment I presented in Houston but with a lot more focus on pathogenicity because pathogenicity was the meeting’s focus. The presentation went well and I got to hear talks from three graduate students, and three PIs from various universities. I received very insightful feedback and questions, which was exciting because I felt like an expert in my field. I became a member of ASM and made quite a few connections. A really interesting talk was given by Dr. Melody Neely about using zebra fish to investigate pathogens and how they sometimes invade the immune system—surprisingly, zebra fish have very similar immune systems to humans. Fish also take up a lot less space in the lab and require less maintenance than rabbits and mice. Toward the end of the meeting, I received the Best Oral Presentation Award from ASM MI! I really enjoyed the meeting and am grateful that I could present to such a diverse group.

Giving my presentation! (Thanks for the photo, Dr. DiRita)

Giving my presentation! (Thanks for the photo, Dr. DiRita)