Doorway to opportunity

Something that was hardly on her mind when Julian Greer arrived at South Carolina has become a centerpiece of her university experience. It has helped her polish her public speaking skills, expand her social circle, get to know professors outside of the classroom and chart her future. It has even put some spending money in her pocket.

What is it? Research.

“When I got here as a freshman, I wasn’t really thinking about research,” Greer says. “Working in a lab was something for graduate students, advanced students. It was something you did after years of taking classes.”

She quickly found it’s not at all like that at USC. Every step of the way, the university community nudged her into what the senior sees as one of the defining educational experiences of her life.

Through the Capstone Scholars Program, she had the opportunity to live in one of the program’s two residence halls among fellow Capstone Scholars, allowing her to attend a large research university but as part of a residential community with a small-college feel. The program also pushed her to fully explore the academic environment at South Carolina.

“At Capstone, they started telling us about research early,” Greer says, “They really want you to get involved, move outside the classroom.”

As a freshman, she took part in the Office of Undergraduate Research’s Discover Seminar, a weekly series of one-hour workshops that give a detailed overview of how to get into undergraduate research and make the most of it.

“That gives you a four-week breakdown of how to find your mentor, make a real connection, how to look for funding, that whole process,” Greer says. She put what she learned to work and approached Raja Fayad, who taught one of her classes her freshman year and is an assistant professor of exercise science, about working in his laboratory.

That led to two years of work in Fayad’s laboratory, where she researched new approaches to treating colon cancer. Using an animal model, she studied the protective role of the protein adiponectin in the development of the disease.

“She’s a very dedicated student, and she’s been doing the work of a graduate student at the master’s level,” says Fayad. “Hopefully she will end up as a co-author on a scientific paper.”

The benefits of the work weren’t manifested just in the laboratory.

“I’ve worked with Dr. Fayad for two years, and he was a mentor for me beyond my research project,” Greer says. “I want to go to medical school, and since he went to medical school, he had a lot of advice to give me.”

Greer has found financial support for research from a number of opportunities available to undergraduates at South Carolina, including Magellan Apprentice and the Magellan Mini-Grant.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to find a job on campus that works with your class schedule,” says Greer. “You can apply for these grants and get a salary, which is an outstanding way to have a job that works around your schedule and is something that’s interesting to you.”

Greer recently earned a Magellan Scholar grant to work with assistant professor of exercise science Xuewen Wang. Greer will be working with human subjects for this research project, which examines how even small amounts of sleep loss (just one hour lost per night for several days) might weaken the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, possibly creating a pre-diabetic state.

“The Magellan Scholar process was definitely rigorous, but it’s been a great experience looking back,” says Greer. “Now I’m much more comfortable with writing and speaking about my research.”

She has gotten so much from her experiences that she now serves as a Magellan Ambassador, speaking to groups of fellow and prospective students about the merits of undergraduate research – for every major.

“I think the research experience is good for all undergraduates, even those in nonscience majors,” Greer says. “It’s a way for you to explore your interests outside of the classroom. You can do something that you really want to do, something that you’re really excited about, and you have a mentor who can guide you through it.”

Learn more

Visit the Magellan programs website to learn more about how we support undergraduate research.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about