Students present their projects at annual Biology symposium

The 21 annual Biology Department Senior Project Symposium gave seniors the opportunity to present their senior projects. The symposium, which took place from April 23 to 25, is an essential part of the senior project process. Other components for the senior project include a written project and an oral defense with advisers. Biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, environmental science and global health majors participate in the symposium.

“Students need to explain the background, structure and overall significance of their work to a general audience of biologists,” Professor of Biology and Biochemistry Margaret Nelson said.

Students train for their respective disciplines in the first-year and junior seminars. The senior project serves as a culmination of the disciplinary skills students gain over the years.

“It is something that most of the biology faculty enjoy,” Nelson said.

According to her, attendees “get a sense of the variety of projects. It spans a considerable breadth of topics.”

The annual symposium began in the spring semester of 1998. It was also the same year Nelson began working at Allegheny College.

It is something that most of the biology faculty enjoy.

— Margaret Nelson, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry

“The overall quality of the talks is generally pretty impressive. That’s encouraging to the faculty: a point of pride to see how well our students can speak about their findings,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she hopes the symposium can be a source of inspiration to younger students.

“If you come to these, you find out that people are sometimes having to speak effectively about projects that didn’t quite go the way they anticipated,” Nelson said.

Kathryn Wehrer, ’18, chose her senior project topic while taking a junior seminar with Professor of Biology Ronald Mumme. Her project, “The Impact of Temperature on Rates of Cannibalism in Ambystoma Mexicanum,” looked at the cannibalistic tendencies of Axolotls, also known as Mexican salamanders and Mexican walking fish.

According to Wehrer, one of the challenges she faced was operating on the schedule of the Axolotls. She noted that Biology has a rigorous process for senior projects. She is using her research experiences as she applies to medical schools.

“This is such a long process for biology majors. It’s great to be done,” Wehrer said.

Emily Watto, ’18, used fruit flies for her research. Her project is titled “Identification of Genes Affecting the Synthesis of Cuticular Hydrocarbons in Drosophila Melanogaster.” Professor Bradley Hersh was Watto’s main project adviser. Watto said Hersh provided her with patience and time to learn the necessary skills needed in order to pursue her research. Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ryan Van Horn also assisted her during the process. He provided Watto with guidance using gas chromatography.

A sentiment echoed by professors and students alike is that laboratory research presents unique challenges. Experiments do not always go according to plan, yet the experience is still meaningful.

“The first semester was a lot of research. This semester was more research and writing. It all gets done eventually,” Watto said. “Even if you don’t find everything, even if you don’t have any results, you still have found something. It’s okay to not have as much as you think other people have.”

Leah Krainz, ’18, worked with Professor of Biology Ann Kleinschmidt. Krainz arrived at her project topic after expressing her research interests to Kleinschmidt. Krainz’s project is titled “Comparison of Heat Shock Transcription Factor mRNA Sequences and Expression in Brassica Rapa and Arabidopsis Thaliana.” Krainz finds that despite the obstacles that arise during the research process, a steady working pace can make the senior project more manageable.

“Trust the process. Don’t worry about it. As long as you do a little bit consistently, there’s no way anything can go wrong,” Krainz said.