This past summer, senior biology major Marina Bostelman conducted neurology research about neurofibromatosis during a ten-week research program for the Amgen Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis.
Bostelman and her lab group’s summer research project focused on a tumor called optic pathway glioma, which develops in children with neurofibromatosis. It appears in only 15 – 20 percent of those affected by neurofibromatosis and has the potential to lead to visual decline.
“Right now we don’t have a way of predicting which patients will experience visual decline,” Bostelman said. “One thing that has been observed clinically, is for some reason girls are much more likely if they develop this tumor to experience visual decline.”
Roughly halfway through the Washington Amgen program, all of the students were taken to a symposium at University of California Los Angeles. Once there, her program met with Amgen scholars from schools across the U.S. and listened to faculty lectures about graduate school and careers in research.
On the second day of the conference, the students traveled to Amgen research facilities in Thousand Oaks, California, where they had opportunities to network with professors and students from other universities.
Bostelman said the lessons that she had learned through Hillsdale’s biology department benefited her during her time at Washington University.
“Besides lab techniques, the critical thinking aspect was huge for starting work in the lab,” Bostelman said. “My mentor for the program pretty much gave mini critical thinking tests.”
Bostelman’s housemates commended her for knowledge and skills in the lab.
“Marina was very passionate and knowledgeable about her project,” said Adriana Baker, a senior at the University of Nevada. “I often asked her to explain to me certain techniques I was not familiar with, and she did so gladly.”
“She was the first person from the program that I met,” said Llona Kavege, a senior biology major at Barry University. “She is very kind and compassionate and remarkably intelligent.”
Bostelman’s preparation for her summer research began in the spring of her freshman year.
Associate Professor of Biology Jeffrey VanZant has been Bostelman’s adviser for two years and has worked with her to prepare for her post-graduate plans.
All the students that have gone through his lab and have undertaken post-graduate education later tell him that they have skills that their peers do not, he said.
“They are highly sought after because they are more prepared than their peers not just with the skills they have in the lab, but also the rigor of our curriculum here at Hillsdale College,” VanZant said.
VanZant commented that Hillsdale students have the opportunity to learn skills such as DNA isolation and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing — expensive processes that most other undergraduates don’t get to do as often as they can at Hillsdale.
Bostelman said students interested in research should gain as much on-campus research experience as possible. Thinking ahead and trying to determine what they are interested in studying long-term is also helpful. She said establishing good relationships with professors can help with letters of recommendation because they have a good grasp of your strengths and weaknesses.
While she only had a few weeks of research with other students, Baker said they saw great potential in her.
“I truly believe she will be a successful scientist, “ Baker said, “She has the passion for discovery as well as the patience and perseverance that a successful scientist needs.”