Pioneer Profile

Kaitlin Williams '18

Majors: Biology and Chemistry (Pre-Professional emphasis)
Minor: Psychology

What made you choose this major?

I’ve always loved science, especially biology. Understanding how bodies work and the reactions they undergo in order to sustain life is super interesting to me. I was initially going to pursue the biochemistry major, but I realized I would get more of the classes I wanted by getting the double major. Classes like comparative vertebrate zoology and quantum mechanics wouldn’t have been included in the biochemistry major.

Has what you’ve learned prepared you for your future?

Absolutely. I’m hoping to matriculate into an MD/PhD program, and everything I’ve learned will be incredibly useful, from my psych courses to my ecology classes.

What opportunities have you had to work closely with a faculty member and what impact has that had on your education?

I’m a faculty research assistant to Dr. Susan Lewis of the biology department. We’ve worked together for three years now, studying the behavior and biology of amphipods, which are little freshwater-shrimp-like organisms that live in the local water system. She’s been an incredible mentor and role model, and I really enjoy working out at the field station. We’ve published together as well, and I’ve become more aware of the importance of paying attention to markers of environmental health, such as amphipod behavior, and their application to human health and life. I even went to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a few weeks to collect samples of a closely related species to our amphipods.

In addition, the skills and lessons I’ve learned from Dr. Lewis have been hugely influential in my research work outside of Carroll. I’ve spent my summers at Harvard Medical School in Boston and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, working on more biomedical applications of research. But science is still science and having the ability and freedom to guide my own behavioral ecology work at Carroll with the mentorship of Dr. Lewis has made me a better scientist and capable of designing and implementing well-thought-out projects in many disciplines of scientific research.

In regards to the small class sizes, as a chemistry major, I take a class called Advanced Instrumentation and Analysis. This is a class where you learn about the theory and application of analytical instruments used by chemists. In a larger school, with classes in the hundreds, there is little possibility that you’d get hands-on experience. You’d watch a professor operate the instruments, maybe. At Carroll, I’ve worked on the mass spec, the flame atomic absorption spectrometer, IRs, the UV-Vis and furnaces. These are extremely expensive, complex instruments and Dr. Joseph Piatt does a great job of making us comfortable with their operation. Having that hands-on experience is an enormous advantage when entering the next step in my education.

What’s a unique experience you’ve had relating to the coursework for your major?

In Organismal Physiology, the lab is completely self-designed in two sections. In the first section, you get seeds of Wisconsin fast plants and are told to design an experiment for their growth, with the only stipulation being you include proper controls. It was a great learning experience because we took these tiny little seeds and got to experiment with almost whatever variable we wanted. We did a pretty basic acidic/basic soil test, collaborating with some of the chemistry students to make our solutions. Planning the experiment from beginning to end, and writing the results up in a formal report is an important component of learning to be a productive scientist and effective group worker.

How has Carroll enriched your growth as a person outside of the skills you’re learning in the classroom?

I’m very involved with biomedical and ecology research off-campus. This semester I also have an internship at the Medical College of Wisconsin working in a physiology laboratory, which the genetics professor, Dr. Christine Schneider, helped set up for me.

While I don’t have a non-science minor, I have also had the opportunity to take a class or two on religion that interested me. I’m currently in Philosophy of Religion, which has been, first—a really nice break from science in my daily schedule, and also forces me to think in a different way. Going to a liberal arts school like Carroll has allowed me to train my brain to think from different viewpoints, which is important for any member of society, but especially for a scientist.

Why did you choose to attend Carroll University?

I love Carroll, and I wouldn’t want to attend another institution. I applied to maybe 17-19 colleges and visited at least five, all over the country. When I visited Carroll with my dad (both of my parents are alumni), I really enjoyed the atmosphere of scholarship and cooperation coupled with the great professor relationships and individual attention. I’ve met really great friends and like-minded individuals here and know that I’ve formed some lifetime connections to the university and the people in it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience at Carroll University?

The most important thing about the college you select is whether you’re being prepared for not only your future career, but also how to live a productive and informed life. You’re not going to get the attention you get at Carroll from a larger school. And the professors and courses here will prepare you very well for the world after graduation.

My summer internships were mostly populated by students from Notre Dame, Harvard, Princeton, Washington University of St. Louis, University of Wisconsin-Madison and other large research institutions. I have been just as prepared and successful, if not more, than these peers from large universities.

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