Ashwarya Sharma, a senior biology major at Loyola Marymount University, found a way to bring her two primary interests together: doing scientific research and helping people. Sharma won an Outstanding Undergraduate Award from the American Society for Microbiology in late October for her research titled “Investigating the regulation of the nod genes in Paraburkholderia tuberum.”
“I am super excited about receiving this award,” Sharma said. “It’s my third time going to the conference and it’s amazing to get recognized for my work. Being associated with ASM comes with a certain prestige.” The award includes a travel grant to attend and present her poster this summer at ASM Microbe 2019, the national meeting for ASM with over 8,000 attendees.
Sharma worked on the winning project with her faculty mentor Michelle Lum, associate professor of biology. Sharma said, “She was my General Biology II professor, which is a course you have to take as a freshman.” For Sharma, it was a seamless transition from working on research in class to working independently. Lum allowed Sharma to explore what she was interested in.
“When I originally came up with my research, it was something Tatiana Kuzmenko, the lab supervisor, and I had talked about and we thought it sounded cool. From that we were able to develop the research project and do actual work and come up with answers,” Sharma said.
Sharma expressed appreciation for Lum’s help. “She guided me. Without her I would be so lost. I am comfortable with her and with all of the faculty in the Biology Department.” Sharma found her interest in research through the opportunities she had as a freshman and sophomore. “Doing research for two years,” she said, “I became familiar with the terminology. Science comes with troubleshooting in the lab and trying to figure out why. It’s definitely a learning process.”
She said that friends who are biology majors at other schools haven’t been able to do the kind of research she has been doing since her freshman year. “And I’ve been able to create such a great base to build and to grow on. That’s the charm of a small school,” Sharma said.
Her lab work at LMU also shifted her perspective: She realized that she would rather research the source of the disease itself than the patients suffering the disease. “Like every biology major, I came in as a pre-med,” she said. “I didn’t know biology could be more. Physicians have the ability to look at the science behind everything and apply that to patients. People are usually just science or just medicine, but you can’t advance without both.”
Reporter Victoria Afchine is a senior English major.