Perspectives in Research: Rachel Schafer joins researchers at the 2017 Society of Toxicology National Conference

Note from Sarah: This is a guest post written by Rachel Schafer ’18. Schafer’s work in the Powell lab focuses on the effects of environmental toxins on the thyroid pathway in African clawed frog development.


Me and Dr. Wade Powell in front of my poster.

This spring break, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 Society of Toxicology National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  I went with my professor, Dr. Wade Powell, to present a poster on the interaction of an environmental toxin, TCDD, and the thyroid hormone pathway in Xenopus laevis metamorphic development.  Our findings demonstrated a discrepancy between gene expression in our X. laevis cell line and in the exposed tadpoles.  I was also privileged enough to win the Pfizer SOT Undergraduate Travel Award, which generously funded my costs at the conference.

I have completed research in Dr. Powell’s lab for two years, including my time during the 2016 Kenyon College Summer Science Scholars program.  Each semester I have found myself becoming more and more invested and passionate about my research; this conference was the perfect opportunity for me to expand my involvement and understanding of my field.

My first night in Baltimore, Dr. Powell and I had dinner with a past lab member, Natalie Plick ’16.  Natalie and I initiated the tadpole experiment together and we were thrilled to see our project near its completion.  It was wonderful to see how experiences such as our research at Kenyon follow us after we graduate.  The very next morning, the Pfizer Corporation planned an extensive day for the undergraduate travel award recipients.  We learned about the diverse number of professions within the toxicology spectrum, ranging from governmental policy and the pharmaceutical industry to scientific and medical research.  Throughout the entire day, I met various scientists with unique backgrounds and specialties.  I was thrilled to meet a medical student who is completing an MD/PhD program, a path I am also considering.  This woman was kind enough to let me pick her brain about her journey through this path.  Throughout the conference, I felt so lucky that all of the other students and professionals were more than willing to sit down to discuss their experiences with me.  I also greatly enjoyed getting to know the other undergraduates at this conference; I found it inspiring how involved people my age are in groundbreaking scientific work.  My roommate was doing fascinating neurotoxic research (and also happened to be the sweetest human alive).  Together, we explored much of the conference, attending symposiums and poster presentations. Another student I met turned out to work in a group that does close collaboration with our own lab.  It was fascinating to hear about his own unique experiences within the same area of research.

On Monday, I presented my poster alongside incredible researchers in the gene expression and regulation category.  One by one, I met scientists whose papers I had read in class and I was in awe to meet them in real life.  In my mind, meeting Dr. Mark Hahn was the equivalent of meeting a celebrity.  Though I was incredibly nervous, I was thrilled to talk about our research to so many people who were genuinely interested in our work.  I became involved in wonderful, thought-provoking conversations for the entire morning and before I knew it, my presentation time was over!

Later on in the week, Dr. Powell had a reunion dinner with all of his co-workers from Woods Hole, the institution where he completed his post-doc training.  I adored getting to see the lineage of researchers, generations of people in this lab who still work and collaborate together.  It inspired me so greatly to continue my pursuit of research and hopefully establish my own network of people within my field.  I cannot express enough how wonderful of an experience this conference was for me, and I can barely wait for my next opportunity to engage with the scientific community on such a large scale.

View Rachel’s poster and learn more about her exciting research here:

 Schafer SOT Final Poster

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