For Albion Biology Students, a Conference Experience to Remember

Albion students at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston.
Albion students at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston included, from left, Victoria Sochor, '15; Michael Sears, '15; Morgan Carey, '15; Ethan Frick, '15; Safiya Syed, '16; and Megan Sheridan, '16. Nick Webster, '15, is not pictured.

April 29, 2015 | By John Perney

Seven biology students notched a major achievement in their Albion College careers by having their abstracts selected as part of the 2015 Experimental Biology conference, an annual gathering of six leading associations in disciplines ranging from anatomy and physiology to biochemistry and nutrition.

With the selection comes the opportunity to display both a research poster at the event and, of course, the experience on one’s CV. For two of the students—Safiya Syed, ’16, and Morgan Carey, ’15—the trip to Boston last month brought additional accolades, ones not usually bestowed on undergraduates.

Syed received an invitation to give a platform talk on her micro RNA research, “miR155 Is Increased by Inflammation and Modulates the Expression of CD11a in Monocytes.”

“It’s a rare thing to have an undergrad get one of these distinction talks,” said her adviser, assistant professor Brad Rabquer, adding that anywhere from 600 to 1,000 undergrads attend this conference among the more than 13,000 participants—primarily graduate students, Ph.D./M.D. faculty and post-doctorate researchers. Of the 13,000, between five and 10 percent are picked for a talk.

Rabquer recalled the moment Syed shared the unexpected news.

“It happened over winter break, that she got an email that she was going to give a talk,” he said. “And I was like, ‘No, you got an email for the undergrad session; we all did.’ Until I saw it, and then I was like, ‘We’ve got work to do.’ It was a big deal.”

Safiya Syed, '16 (at podium), gives her presentation to grad students, Ph.D./M.D. faculty and post-doc researchers.
Syed (at podium) gives her presentation to graduate students, Ph.D./M.D. faculty and post-doctorate researchers. Albion professor Brad Rabquer estimated an audience of 150-200 in all. 

For Syed, a Troy, Michigan, native, the entire conference—from meeting other undergraduates, to receiving poster feedback from experts, to presenting her talk—“was a great experience.”

“Dr. Rabquer helped me a lot to prepare for the presentation,” she said. “We had to prepare the presentation for a room full of scientists. It was hard because there were some people in the audience who are experts on miRNA and inflammation, and I am just an undergrad who started research a year ago. Through this experience, I feel like I have become a better public speaker.”

“In her session, if I would have talked in her stead, I would’ve been the junior person speaking,” Rabquer added. “Everyone else that was speaking was a well-established investigator that has a faculty position. She held her own nicely. She did extremely well.”

Syed is a member of the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program and the Institute for Healthcare Professions. She is also president of the Muslim Student Association, treasurer of service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and has visited Honduras and Nicaragua as part of Albion’s Global Medical Brigades chapter. This summer she plans to take the MCAT and begin medical school applications.

Carey, from Hemlock, Michigan, and also a Rabquer student, was able to talk about her study, “Soluble Junctional Adhesion Molecule-B Inhibits Angiogenesis in Vitro,” as part of a special Microcirculatory Society poster discussion. She was the lone undergraduate to be invited.

Morgan Carey stands next to her research poster at the 2015 Experimental Biology conference in Boston.
Carey stands next to her research poster, which earned extra distinction at the international conference.

“She ended up meeting eight post-docs and faculty members, and then walked around with them as they all discussed their posters. She was also asked to do a Q-and-A,” Rabquer said.

“I was humbled by the experience,” Carey said, “but I've also realized that the work we do here is still a big deal and means something. I was able to have intelligent conversations with associate professors at medical schools, post docs and medical students about my research and what I had accomplished. It made me realize how much I have grown as a person.”

An admission tour guide and a member of Albion’s equestrian stock seat team, Carey is planning a gap year to accumulate patient hours as either a certified nursing assistant or medical assistant before applying to graduate physician-assistant programs.

Also presenting their research in Boston were Ethan Frick, '15; Michael Sears, '15; Megan Sheridan, '16; Victoria Sochor, '15; and Nick Webster, '15. Accompanying Rabquer on the faculty side were Ken Saville, professor and chair of biology, and Christopher Rohlman, associate professor of biochemistry. The majority of the students also participated in last week’s Elkin R. Isaac Student Research Symposium, and much of their work took root through the College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity.

“I was proud of all the students. I think it’s great for Albion that we’re able to get that many students involved,” Rabquer said. “These were FURSCA students by and large. I think it speaks to the success of FURSCA, and not just that students get involved in research, but it’s quality research. They put the work into it, they produced good science, and [their conference participation] is an excellent achievement.”