After Senior-Year Experience, Biology Major Eyes Career in Research

It’s been less than a year since Madeleine King embarked on her first research experience, but that’s long enough for King, who graduated in May from the Loyola Marymount University, to know she’s found her calling.

King, a biology major and biochemistry minor, was a member of a research team led by Seaver biology professor Kam Dahlquist that investigated whether naturally occurring mutations in a specific protein might have an impact on how people fare with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. As the first author, King represented the group in the undergraduate poster competition at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting in April. Competing against students from around the world, many of whom had been conducting research since their freshman year, King earned honorable mention for her presentation of “A bioinformatics approach to investigating the structural and functional consequences of SNPs in TMPRSS2 for COVID-19 infection.”

Madeleine 300x300 - After Senior-Year Experience, Biology Major Eyes Career in ResearchBy the time King won the award, she already knew she wanted to pursue research at the graduate level. This fall, she will start a biochemistry Ph.D. program at the Arizona State University School of Molecular Sciences. “It meant so much to see my name on the list of winners,” said King. “And it was so cool to have this experience with a scientific meeting, knowing that this is what I’ll be doing the next five years.” King is considering working in the biotech industry after she earns her Ph.D.

At one point King thought she was headed to medical school. “As a biology major, people assume you want to be a doctor, and even though all of my professors got their Ph.D.’s, I hardly knew any students who were going in that direction,” said King. But once King joined Dahlquist’s bioinformatics lab, she decided research was for her. “I like being in a lab with my own work space and just being in my own element,” said King. “And with research, even though you’re not seeing individual patients, you have the potential to affect millions of people with your discovery. Doing this project, you could see in real time that in the population there were COVID cases ranging from asymptomatic to more severe, and it was exciting to know this was something we were working on understanding.”

When she compares notes with friends who graduated from larger universities, King knows she made the right choice in enrolling at LMU. “The fact that it’s such a small school has helped me a lot,” said King. “My professors all know my name. They offered to do letters of recommendation for me. When I needed help, I could email and they would get right back to me. And it was my professors who advised me that I’m cut out for research and have the abilities to pursue a Ph.D. That support and confidence made a huge difference.”