Abby’s Beckman Experience

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by Kayla Wall, UNC 2012, PR Assistant
March 15, 2010

Abby Knight, a senior biochemistry major from Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of two UNC students to receive the Beckman Scholarship in the spring of 2009. Founded in 1997, The Beckman Scholars Program awards scholarships to undergraduate students researching chemistry, biochemistry, and/or biological and medical sciences.

Knight started undergraduate research the summer after her freshman year in a cellular biology lab at the University of Virginia. There she discovered an excitement for research, but also realized her interests were more focused in chemistry than biology.

Prior to the nomination, Knight knew nothing about the Beckman Scholars Program. “I just wanted to do research over the summer,” she said. Dr. Marcey Waters, Knight’s research advisor, nominated her for the Beckman Scholarship Spring of 2009. The program provides the scholar with an opportunity to conduct research in their area of study starting the summer after acceptance and finishing the following summer. To conclude the program, Beckman scholars will attend a conference in Irvine, California, to present their results.

With the help of her advisor and graduate students, Knight decided to conduct her research on RNA binding. She explains that “most drugs right now bind to proteins and somehow hinder that protein from doing its job.” Knight is working on finding something that binds to RNA instead of proteins and still serves as a therapeutic agent for a specific disease. If successful, results will be useful for future drugs.

“The experience of working in the lab gives you a much better perspective of what chemist do,” Knight said. She expresses the key role her research advisor has played by guiding her research and including useful feedback to her approaches in going about her research. Knight also emphasizes the importance of sharing her ideas with other undergraduate and graduate students in order to learn from their experiences, which prevents mistakes and saves time.

Although Knight has hit multiple obstacles with her research project, she would not have done anything differently. Obstacles can range from data issues to simply lacking the supplies to conduct research. “No matter what you do with research you’re going to hit obstacles,” she said in an upbeat manner, “…it’s inevitable.”

Upon completion of the Beckman project, Knight’s next steps include applying to graduate school. She plans on studying chemistry biology, focusing on chemical tools and applying them to biological systems.

Advice for Beginning Chemistry Majors:

Knight advises beginning chemistry majors to:

  • Review the department website
  • Look at faculty profiles – see what their individual research entails
  • Send the faculty emails expressing your interest in their research
  • Talk to your professors – Even if their research does not grab your attention, they may know of someone to refer you to
  • Ask academic advising for help and referrals

For those interested in undergraduate research, regardless of your major, Knight recommends to “definitely look into it!” For more information about the Beckman Scholars Program visit Beckman Foundation’s website.