Drury student studies genetics thanks to selective national grant

Anna Brinck is getting the best of both worlds when it comes to science research as an undergraduate student.

As a junior majoring in chemistry, biology and Spanish at Drury, Brinck has been able to conduct research in an intimate, small-school setting with faculty mentors by her side. And this summer, she is getting the chance to take to the lab at a large research university – the University of Georgia – thanks to a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

Brinck is the latest Drury student to be selected for the highly competitive Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. About a dozen Drury students have been selected for REU positions over the last three years.

Drury Chemistry, Biology, and Spanish major Anna Brinck working in a lab at UGA. Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker, University of Georgia

The Nixa native is spending her summer conducting research on the behavior of beetles that bury carcasses beneath soil as a food source for their larvae during reproduction.

“My specific project is looking at burial depth of the carcass and different gene expressions and reproductive tradeoffs in the beetles that may differ in shallow burials versus deep burials,” says Brinck. “The general idea is correlating genetics with a variable of the burying behavior.”

The size and scope of the lab setting is much different than at Drury, Brinck says, but the fundamentals of research are the same. She says Drury prepared her well for the work she is doing this summer through REU. She’s been conducting research of some kind since her freshman year, mainly focusing on genetics.

“Drury is a place where almost anything you want to do is possible,” she says. “It’s a network of truly supportive peers, professors and other faculty and staff, so if you want to do a specific type of research, it can happen.”

When comparing her experience to other undergrads participating in REU projects, and even graduate students earning their Ph.D. at UGA, it’s clear to Brinck that she’s had more opportunities for meaningful research than many of her peers.

“They came from larger schools where you have to be an upperclassman to be considered for research or you have to know the right people in order to get into a lab group,” she says. “Since I have had a lot of research experience, I already have a basic research skill set that is extremely valuable.”

Previous Drury REU participants tell a similar story of being well prepared for the opportunity, yet coming away with an advanced level of experience and knowledge thanks to working in larger labs. Abby Delawder graduated from Drury this spring with a chemistry degree. She conducted medical research at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, in 2015 as an REU participant. Prior to that, she spent many hours in the labs of Drury’s Trustee Science Center working with chemistry professor Dr. Madhuri Manpadi.

“I was able to see a broad picture of how groundbreaking research at that particular level works and how my research in the future can benefit the entire community,” Delawder says of her time at Scripps.

Delawder heads to Washington University in St. Louis this fall, where she will begin work earning a doctorate in chemistry. Her goal: help find new ways to combat the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“I have Dr. Manpadi to thank for accepting me into her lab and teaching me valuable lessons, not only in the textbook but real-life applications of the text material,” she adds.

Brinck, at UGA, says that in addition to those research skills, one of the underlying values Drury’s science faculty has taught her is curiosity.

“A lot of research is very tedious, so the desire to solve the questions puzzling you is a necessity to be successful,” she says. “The liberal arts experience has definitely given me the cognitive capabilities to be able to ask the right questions and to further my research curiosity. Every professor I have ever had at Drury has not only encouraged me to be curious, but have also been great examples of curious people themselves.”

Brinck wants to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics and will be applying to graduate schools this coming year as she completes her studies at Drury.


Story by Mike Brothers, Director of Media relations. 

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