Mariah Blegen ’13 (Deephaven, Minn.) is taking pre-med courses at Macalester, but she’s still keeping her options open: She’s drawn both to working in a clinic and doing biomedical research. Thanks to a summer research experience this year, she has a better understanding of the relationship between biomedical research and clinical medicine.
Blegen was part of a University of Minnesota summer health science research program that accepts three Macalester students each year. The program is designed for students interested in becoming physician–scientists; in other words, it’s for those who’d like to pair an MD with research. “I always knew I liked science and was intrigued by how the human body works,” she says. “The clinical aspect appealed to me, but so did the research. You get to see the range of possibilities of being an MD through this program.”
Blegen, a biology major with a concentration in Community and Global Health, spent the summer in a U of M lab studying the long-term neurodevelopmental effects of early iron deficiency. Research has shown that early iron deficiency causes detrimental effects on learning, memory, and growth. Blegen’s group studied the second generation—the offspring of iron-deficient rats—to see if the pattern continues.
The project was Blegen’s first research experience. “A textbook can explain some things, but there’s so much beyond the textbook,” she says.
Part of the experience included connecting with peers and mentors. Biology professor Liz Jansen and Mac’s Science and Research Office match student interests with supervisors and labs. Throughout the summer, Blegen met weekly with a seminar group that included six other undergraduates plus two MD-PhD students. She presented her initial findings to that group, as well as at a U of M undergraduate symposium and a fall poster session at Macalester.
Although her mentor encouraged her to seriously consider a research career, Blegen is keeping all her options open. Her plans are to explore post-baccalaureate research programs before attending medical school. One thing is certain, though: her understanding of science has changed. “It’s not just about testing a hypothesis and then being done,” she says. “If you keep finding interesting results, it can grow and develop from there. When you find one answer, it leads to a whole new set of questions.”