Faculty-Student Team Collaborates in Research Project

Undergraduate biology students gain hands-on experience working in a lab

Students Geoff Bader '11 and Bryan Piatkowski '12 are spending their days on the Roanoke College campus this summer with Dr. DorothyBelle Poli gaining research experience that is hard to come by as an undergraduate. Poli has the ability to do this research through a Jeffress Grant, a state grant with a traditional application process. Poli is using the grant to study the evolution of polar auxin transport and to understand how two different plant generations use the same hormone, similarly to the ways adult humans and children use things differently. The research is based in part on work Poli and Bader completed in the past.

Bader applied for a number of grants with Poli's help after he began working with her in the lab. One was the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) through the American Society of Plant Biologists. His topic was "Uptake and Efflux of Auxin and the Polar Auxin Transport in Land Plant Gametophytes," which addressed the evolution of auxin in plants, a hormone that allows plants to grow, develop and function. Bader received the award through SURF and was given a stipend, supplies, a year's membership to the society and what may be the best part - airfare. By being a member of the society, Bader was exposed to other award opportunities and local meetings. Through the grant, Bader will present his results at the American Society of Plant Biologist's annual international meeting in Hawaii.

Bader's work helped the lab to ask the next research question. Poli explains, "Science is a process - you ask one question, and it leads you to another question. This was the next question to ask."

Piatkowski and Bader both are research assistants in Poli's lab during the school year, selected after being students in her biology 120 lab in their first semesters at Roanoke.

It made sense they would work with Poli on this research, where Poli describes, "The benefit is really for the students, who are part of the entire experimental process. The students are training in a way they could never get at a large school, and the benefit to me is that they bring a brand new eye to things." The student's laughed when Poli mentioned that at other schools students would only be washing dishes. Even though both students are doing much more, they were quick to point out they do still wash the dishes.

At Roanoke, all tenure-track biology professors have at least one student assistant, and for each student who is chosen to work in the labs at Roanoke, priceless experience is gained. It is a win-win situation, as students stand out from the crowd and professors get the opportunity to teach as well as conduct research. At many larger schools, professors teach only one course and spend the rest of their time running a lab.

Poli thinks a draw of Roanoke for many professors who do research is that they get to do both of the things they love. For Poli, it definitely was a factor. "The unique opportunity at Roanoke for my time to be split 50/50 between research and teaching is why I chose to come here."

Both Bader and Piatkowski are interested in continuing their education and the opportunity that they have had to do undergraduate research in a lab will certainly be a benefit.

"The best part is the firsthand experience. There is a big difference between learning something in reading or a lecture and researching things people don't know," says Bader.

Though Bader and Piatkowski's minds certainly are not at rest for the summer months, the research they do now will set them apart a few years down the road. Poli sees the research as a great opportunity for both. "In the long run, research really helps students to go graduate school and medical school. Research allows students to see what science is all about."

About the Author

Megan Semmelman is a sociology major with a communications concentration from Pennsylvania. She is a student writer for Roanoke College Public Relations and is active on campus in several organizations, including Chi Omega and Relay for Life.

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