Morgan Thomas ’19 majored in neuroscience with a minor in Africana studies. Because of Oberlin’s small class sizes and focus on undergraduate students, Thomas gained valuable research skills that she now employs as a research technician in a neurotoxicology lab at Purdue University.
Can you describe what you currently do?
As a research technician at Purdue University, I grow and maintain multiple immortalized cell lines, conduct experiments, and help the postdoctoral people in the lab. I also oversee and train the undergraduate students in the lab.
How did your major and your academic experience factor into your current professional life?
Because of the small community at Oberlin, I was able to spend two years doing undergraduate research in a neuroscience lab. This opportunity allowed me to gain experience in a research lab that was necessary for me to be qualified for my job now. I was also able to present my research at seven different conferences, which allowed me to gain confidence in my scientific knowledge and allowed me to meet and network with people in this field as well. I still use the techniques I learned at Oberlin in the lab as well as presenting skills at different scientific conferences.
Did any professors or faculty at Oberlin particularly enhance your college experience?
I worked in the lab of Associate Professor Gunnar Kwayke, who specializes in neurotoxicology and neurodegeneration. Under his tutelage, I was trained as a cell culture scientist. Professor Kwayke’s mentorship enhanced my college career tremendously. The lessons I’ve learned from him and the skills I picked up truly improved my career.
I was given the opportunity to train other students in Kwayke’s lab, and now I teach an Introduction to Lab Techniques for the undergraduate students who work in my current lab. Without Kwayke’s guidance, I would not have found my passion for research.
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in a similar career path?
My advice to anyone who wants to attend graduate school in the sciences or medical school is to use their summers and winter terms for internships or shadowing opportunities. I did not know my passion would lie in research until I had the opportunity to do research for an extended amount of time. I would also suggest talking to people who have gone down that path.
At Oberlin, we have Lab Crawl, an annual event where you can go and learn about the labs from different science fields on campus and talk to the professors. I would also say to get a good mentor. Talking to professors in office hours and asking questions about their research and the career path they took is a good way to start. Mentors can be really helpful in helping you figure out which classes to take to go down that path.
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