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Polly Haight '13

Polly Haight

Polly Haight ’13 came to DePauw with her eyes set on medical school. “At first I viewed my undergraduate career as a stepping stone onto something more. But through DePauw and the Science Research Fellows program I am convinced that this educational experience is something more in and of itself,” Haight said.

As a freshman entering DePauw, Haight sought out to pursue a biochemistry major because she understood how closely it mirrored medical school prerequisites. “While I knew that I would enjoy biochemistry, I never quite knew how much,” she said. “My professors really got me interested in the ‘how’ of biological and chemical processes; I began to channel my interest more toward critical thinking in the context of the body’s reactions,” she said.

“I found that I was encouraged to apply to the SRF program to explore and broaden my expectations of science,” Haight said. She entered as a lateral entry student in the fall of 2010. During her first semester of research Haight worked with Prof. Hilary Eppley and several other students exploring the properties of “ionogels” and attempting to create gel-like materials from ionic liquids. Haight believed that it was so rewarding to work on a brand new project that is at the forefront of its field.

The research experience helped her not only to become familiar with basic laboratory procedures, but also conducting a proper scientific experiment. “From this project I also learned that success does not come easily; we would often attempt to create gels that never solidified or were too ‘gooey.’ But that’s where you go back and ask ‘okay, what can we do to fix this?’ And try again.

In the spring semester and summer following her sophomore year, Haight paired with Matt Kukurugya ’13 and Vincent Guzzetta ’14 to study the metabolomic effects of salinity and drought stress on Portulaca oleracea, a weedy medicinal plant better known as purslane. “It was cool to see our project in a bigger context – we related the reaction of purslane to the overall response of plants to climate change.” Haight said that the most challenging part of her summer was learning to use R, a statistical analysis program with a steep learning curve. Haight claims, “Our lab had great chemistry, both in terms of the data and the friendships that were made, which made that summer a very overall rewarding experience.”

“My on-campus research experiences taught me how to think like a scientist,” Haight said. Before working with Profs. Eppley and Hanson I had little idea of how ask questions, develop hypotheses and create protocols that enable you to explore science and develop answers about the world around you.”

To further pursue her interest in research, Haight traveled to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine during the summer of her junior year where she had obtained an undergraduate research fellowship. “While researching at DePauw was an exceptional experience, I was also interested in pursuing more biomedical opportunities that you can really only obtain on a medical campus,” Haight says. She worked in the department of environmental health studying the effects of bisphenol A on centrosomes and the cell cycle in prostate cancer cells. “The program was challenging in so many ways, but also so rewarding. At the end of the summer I told my mentor that I couldn’t comprehend how much I had learned and that my brain felt as though it had doubled in size.”

Haight believes that it was all through the Science Research Fellows program that these experiences were possible for her. “I was actually talking with one of my fellow SRF classmates the other day and we both agreed that applying to the Science Research Fellows was one of the best decisions we have ever made. I honestly couldn’t say what I would have otherwise done for the past two summers, and never would I have been so motivated to apply for and obtain a prestigious research internship in fields that truly interested me.”

While Haight still plans to attend medical school, she is convinced that she will pursue biomedical research along her path to becoming a physician. “I love how intertwined research and medicine are. Some high level of collaboration has to exist between scientists and doctors in order to make scientific discovery accessible as a potential treatment. I now see myself as a capable proponent of both sides of that spectrum.”