As she begins her senior year in biochemistry at Loyola Marymount University, 21-year-old Lauren Thurlow has this advice for her fellow undergraduates: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get as much experience as you can.
It’s what she’s done, starting in high school when her AP biology teacher recommended her for a summer job in a toxicology lab at the University of Southern Maine. That set the course she’s on now toward becoming a professor of biochemistry or molecular biology.
“Get involved in your department early on,” says Thurlow. “I worked as a stockroom assistant during my first two years at LMU. Not only did it give me more experience with chemistry, but it also gave me the chance to meet and interact with faculty in my department.”
Thurlow credits those experiences with leading to many opportunities she’s had during her time at LMU, including a research project working with a professor to synthesize macrocycles, becoming a McNair Scholar, and being selected for the highly competitive Amgen Scholars Program at UC Berkeley.
“You never know what chance you’re going to get and where it’s going to take you,” she says.
This summer, Thurlow was one of 27 chosen from 1,000 applicants to work with post-doctoral scholars at UC Berkeley. Thurlow helped design a study to develop a tool to visualize RNA—a problem that’s perplexed scientists for more than a decade. Although she didn’t have time to complete the project during the 10-week program, she says it was an amazing experience that gave her real-life insight into graduate school and the research lifestyle.
Back at LMU in early September, Thurlow was busy setting up her research lab for continuing her work on organic synthesis, and preparing to serve as a teaching assistant for a lab on inorganic chemistry. Unlike larger universities, undergraduates, who are trained and supervised by professors, can serve as lab teaching assistants at LMU.
“I love sharing my knowledge with others,” she says. “It’s made me realize that I could be a professor and a teacher.”
Although she’s not looking forward to the stress of applying to graduate schools in the near future, she is excited about the new Life Sciences building and sharing her research through poster sessions at a couple of conferences this year. She’ll also be working on her honor’s thesis with Dr. Jeremy McCallum, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
“I’m excited that Dr. McCallum is asking for my ideas and input on a new research project.”