Texas Tech University

Faculty & Student Spotlight

Dr. Samuel Prien & Cara Wessels

Dr. Samuel Prien & Cara Wessels

Author: Samuel Prien

For science to have value it must somehow increase the useful knowledgebase of mankind. So why teach undergraduates research? The cliché answer would be the undergraduates of today will be the scientists of tomorrow. While it is true the next generation has to be trained, occasionally it is the student that teaches. Undergraduates can, and often do, because they have not yet become jaded by the discipline necessary to make science a career, make amazing observations far beyond the expectations of their mentors. Take for example, the experience of Cara.

As an undergraduate Cara's sole goal was to go to Vet School. As such she sought out the research experience she hoped would get her invited to interview for one of the coveted Vet School spots. But two strange things happened on the way to Vet School. One was, after getting into the project, Cara found she liked the research. Her project was unique, using a specialized system, based on specific gravity and developed by her mentor, to examine the quality of mammal embryos. Why, you ask? Because having a non-damaging way to determine which embryos will continue to grow will both help improve the chance for patients dealing with infertility, and also improve the efficiency of breeding animals used to feed a hungry would.

You might be asking yourself, but what was the other strange thing that happened on the way to Vet School? Cara made an observation. She observed that embryos that spent time in the new device were growing better than those grown only in the traditional systems. That observation, which she had to struggle to get her mentor to believe, has literally changed Cara's world. It caused: 1) her to discover a love of research that has taken her to Graduate School instead of Vet School, 2) taken her to several scientific meetings and got her an invitation to publish in one of the top journals in the field and 3) led her mentor to add her name as a co-inventor on a patent application for the new system; citing "it may not only allow us to pick better embryos, it might actually improve their growth." So why teach undergraduates research? Because with a little guidance and support they can literally change the world.