SPUR program exceeds student’s expectations

Drake University junior Mason Schmidt reflects on summer of undergrad research

Mason Schmidt examines a test tube while wearing goggles, gloves and a lab coat as part of Sanford Research's SPUR program.

All of the aspects of the SPUR summer program attracted Mason Schmidt to come from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

SPUR, the Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research, is a Sanford Research program that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in laboratory research. SPUR isn’t just about lab work. This program also includes weekly workshops, research seminars, a GRE prep course, and community activities.

Fully immersive program

Schmidt is going to be a junior at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. He is studying biochemistry.

“I knew I wanted to do research and I thought biochemistry would be what I would be the most interested in,” he said.

A high school field trip to Madison, Wisconsin, sparked his interest in laboratory research.

“Getting into the lab and doing hands-on stuff was when I definitely knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said.

A college professor encouraged him to look at the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates website to find a program. He already does research at Drake University but wanted to find something for the summer.

The immersive, well-rounded program at Sanford Research stood out to Schmidt. A lot of the other programs were 10 weeks of just research, but SPUR offered the full experience. “I see what university research is like and being able to compare it to research being done in the industry, although they are both research institutions, it is cool to see the differences in that way,” he said.

Studying proteins

Indra Chandrasekar’s Lab focuses on understanding the role of actin cytoskeleton and molecular motor proteins in the kidneys. Actin cytoskeleton helps to maintain the shape and structure of cells. Molecular motor proteins aid in cell movement.

Schmidt has been researching a protein called non-muscle myosin II and its role in the kidneys. He has been using mouse models to see how this protein affects kidney function and kidney disease.

“I enjoy having my own project, the mentors I am with, and the different people in my lab,” he said.

“Mason has been a great student to have working with our group,” Dr. Chandrasekar said. “He has been dedicated to experiencing and learning as much as he can about scientific research.”

Schmidt has been learning scientific techniques in the labs for 10 weeks, something he wouldn’t be able to do at college. He has also improved on his lab skills and thinking like a scientist. “Every day, I can tell I get more and more comfortable with that,” he said.

Since he has been a part of SPUR, his future career plans changed slightly. Originally, Schmidt was going to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Now, he hopes to get a Ph.D. in either biochemistry or cell biology.

“I always thought biochemistry, but my lab is cell biology and I really enjoy it. All the workshops and different things the principal investigators have done for us have been really informative and nice. It has honestly exceeded my expectations.”

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