College students are tasked with the challenge of balancing schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, jobs and their personal lives. For Conrrad Nicholls and Andrew Kump, their schedules dictate they juggle all of those -- in addition to being both full-time scholar-athletes and part-time student-researchers.
Nicholls and Kump, both senior biology majors with microbiology concentrations, applied for the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program at Indiana State University and were accepted to conduct research on the bacterium that causes strep throat. "The goal of the research is to sequence the strain of streptococcus bacteria that produces a protective capsule," said Kump of West Terre Haute.
"The reason why we are doing this is to be able to better understand how the capsule production is controlled, which this capsule helps the bacterium fight off attacks from our body's immune system," he said. "The more you know how this capsule formation is controlled, the better you can develop methods to fight it."
In the midst of cold and flu season, as more and more people become sick, patients look to their doctors and caregivers for medications for cures.
"People come to the doctor with the flu or a cold, but medicine is not going to do anything but ease the symptoms," Kump said. "We only need antibiotics for a few things, as our bodies are able to heal a lot of illnesses. Antibiotics are going to be useless if humanity continues to use them just to make them feel better."
Kump and Nicholls have been conducting the research since summer. They are enrolled in a specialized topics course where they spend at least nine hours a week in the lab. Time management becomes the ultimate task for these student-researchers when they must schedule their lab hours around their respective sports.
Nicholls, who is from Honolulu, Hawaii, plays defensive end for the Indiana State football team. According to him, finding balance comes easy when you do the things you love.
"When you have a talent, or something you are good at, and a purpose, something you are passionate about, you cannot give up one or the other because you will regret it," he said. "You go as far as you can in one until you cannot go any more and then you continue with the other. I try to reinforce having a plan B and exercising a strong work ethic."
Since the age of 8, Nicholls has loved football, but it was when he took a genetics class in high school that he realized his purpose.
"Through football, you are able to express your deepest emotions, such as fear and passion," he said. "You are able to build a social complex with a team of people who you would have never otherwise met if not for the sport."
Science takes a step out of the emotional side of things and dives into the depth of logic and reason, Nichols added.
"I think future of medicine is going to be genetics," he said. "Instead of fixing an illness as a consequence of something that affects the genome, you can just change the genome and fix the point of the problem. I want to make sure that the human species is able to go on for as long it can. I have been taking things apart and putting them back together my entire life. I want to do the same for people to make them better."
Kump runs track and field, and his relationship with science evolved gradually through high school and into college.
"As a freshman, I started as a pre-med major but I enjoyed the labs much more so I decided to switch to biology," said Kump. "I plan on going to graduate school and maybe pursuing a Ph.D. My dream job would be working for the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institutes of Health, but I would be happy just doing research. If that means going into academia, then that is another option for me. I spent the entire summer immersing myself in some cell development journals, and I began to understand the language of biology, which opened up a whole realm of possibilities for me."
The work the Kump and Nicholls are doing is a part of Kyu Hong Cho's ongoing research. Cho is a microbiologist at Indiana State who moved to Terre Haute last fall. His efforts on streptococcus bacteria have extended over the past 10 years.
"I wanted to expand my research to different strains from the Centers for Disease Control," said Cho. "Conrrad and Andrew's first time conducting scientific research took place over the summer while they spent their time split between that and practice. They are doing this research by themselves for the most part, and it is helping them learn scientific techniques and lab safety and teaches them how to plan research and analyze it."
Nichols said he and Kump are trying to publish a genome announcement paper by January. "We have multiple goals that we are working towards," he said. "Since this is my last year in college, I am thinking about graduate school but leaving my career options open. However, I would love to study microbiology, genetics or cancer."
According to Nicholls, there is an athlete mentality that motivates people who play sports to push themselves passed their limits. The relationship between the two students in the lab is almost perfect, because they apply that mentality to everything in their lives. An example of this mindset is Kump's motto that he uses to motivate himself.
"It's a grind," said Kump. "It is what I say to challenge myself when I am running. Research is also a grind, though. There will be things during our experiments that never go right. However, it is our attitude and work ethic that helps Conrrad and I push through and get what we need to get done."
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