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Perseverance is more important than brilliance: Dr. Sherry Yennello from the Cyclotron Institute

Perseverance is more important than brilliance: Dr. Sherry Yennello from the Cyclotron Institute

Not that long ago, the only women’s restroom at Texas A&M’s Cyclotron Institute was in the administrative area, far from where the science was done. “There are more women now,” said Dr. Sherry Yennello, Chemistry Professor and Cyclotron Institute Bright Chair in Nuclear Science at Texas A&M University. “And I think more women have the mindset that they can be scientists. They know it’s possible.”

Dr. Sherry Yennello

Dr. Yennello spoke recently to a group of UD students following her lecture, “Stellar Secrets: Earth Bound Insights into Elements Through Heavy-ion Reactions.” Her visit was part of the Clare Booth Luce Speaker Series, a program designed to attract women into physical science, engineering, and mathematical areas and to support them once there.

Dr. Yennello told students that research experiences are invaluable on a number of levels. “You’ll learn what it’s like to really do research every day,” she said. “And you’ll learn how you function best, whether in a structured environment where a professor gives you explicit instructions, or in an environment like mine, where I give you the big picture, show you the resources, and you have to step up and ask questions.”

Dr. Yennello encouraged students to attend regional and national meetings of groups associated with their majors (like American Chemical Society and American Physical Society) in order to network with their peers. “Students that attend these meetings will tell you what their lives are really like at their REUs and give you a good feel for the way an institution or a department works.” She added that networking at these events creates relationships that can form the basis of not only lifelong scientific collaborations, but also true friendships. “Science is done in groups,” she said. “And you need networks of people to get it done.”

In describing which characteristics students need to be successful, Dr. Yennello emphasized perseverance above any other trait. “Not giving up far outweighs brilliance,” she said. According to Dr. Yennello, high achieving students often get frustrated when their experiments don’t go the way they think they will. “When I’m looking at potential students for REUs, I’m looking for someone who wants to learn, someone who wants to figure out how to overcome errors and mistakes and understands that there isn’t always a straight path to the answer,” she said. Dr. Yennello recommended that students use the personal statements and cover letters with their REU applications to talk about their resilience, curiosity and perseverance when they don’t get an answer on the first try.

Dr. Yennello closed by saying that conducting research is only part of the benefit of an REU: “The real questions are: did you learn something and did you meet people?”

For more information on applying for REUs or other internships, contact OPCD or your department chair.

Joseph Pecha Wins Award for Best Poster at American Chemical Society Meeting

Joseph Pecha Wins Award for Best Poster at American Chemical Society Meeting

Joseph Pecha
Joseph Pecha

The November 4-11, 2015 American Chemical Society meeting in Nashville was Joseph Pecha’s first big conference to attend. “There were a lot of people and a lot of specialties represented,” he said. “There was also a variety of different institutions.” Pecha was awarded a University of Dallas Experience Award to offset the expense of attending the conference, during which he presented a paper based on his summer research at Emory University.
Pecha also received the Best Poster Award in his division. He attributes his win to preparation. “I presented my paper at Emory and won 3rd place among my group,” he said, “And I practiced a lot over the summer.” Pecha also credits having an outstanding mentor as part of his success. “Although it’s hard, you have to have confidence in yourself while you’re conducting research. You have to be proactive and stick with it.”
Pecha said that attending the event would help him prepare for his future as a scientist. “It’s of critical importance for scientists to communicate the value and benefits of the work they’re doing to the public,” he said. “Presenting at the American Chemical Society Meeting helped me experience the importance of clear communication.”

Joseph Pecha is a Biochemistry and French major at UD. You can read here about his summer 2016 research experience related to orthopedic medicine.

A World Away: Kaylee Gund in Guinea

A World Away: Kaylee Gund in Guinea

After living for fourteen months in a hut three meters in diameter with no electricity or running water, Kaylee Gund (Biochemistry ’13) realized she could handle just about anything. A volunteer for the Peace Corps in Guinea, Gund taught middle and high school students in a rural village until she was evacuated as a result of the West-African country’s Ebola outbreak. I spoke with her in October 2014 about her experience there.

Before beginning the Peace Corps application process her senior year, Gund considered several graduate schools but none seemed a good fit. “The ideas of service, travel and cultural exchange that are part of the Peace Corps experience really appealed to me,” she said. “And I felt I had been given so much that I wanted to give back where it was most needed.”

Her major in Biochemistry and concentration in French made Gund an ideal candidate for her post as a chemistry teacher in French-speaking Guinea. She lived with a host family during her three-month training but had her own hut among a circle of others within the village during her teaching assignment. Gund said she “adopted” a family living within the circle, sharing meals with them and going to them for advice. “Some aid organizations come in and out of the country without making a connection,” Gund said, “but the Peace Corps is different. By having an extended stay, I became part of the community. They were very generous and happy I was there.” A poignant story on Gund’s blog illustrates her point. Seeing her grief over the death of her great-uncle, the local villagers presented her with a small sum of money, a Guinean tradition for the family of the deceased. She writes: “The sum would have been nothing in US dollars, but it was more than money–it was a gift of tradition, a gift of their love and appreciation of me.”

Gund is quick to point out that the experience was hard, and that it was a culture shock. But she credits her Rome semester as helping to prepare her for this international experience. “Rome can help you adjust to life in another country if you can take the time to explore,” she said. She also turned to her faith to help her through difficult times. “Guinea is primarily a Muslim country. There was no Church in my village so I had to take a bush taxi to the city to attend mass. My faith gave me something to hold on to in the midst of everything new and strange and different,” she said.

Gund’s time in Guinea was cut short because of the much-publicized Ebola outbreak affecting the country. Although no cases were reported in her village, the Peace Corps determined that the Guinean health infrastructure was too hard-pressed to provide adequate support for volunteers in case of any other type of medical emergency. Hoping to continue her international travels, Gund now plans to attend graduate school in Europe. After her Peace Corps experience, she should have no problem handling that. “I’m more flexible now,” she said. “I can adjust to any environment.”

Kaylee Gund graduated from the University of Dallas in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biohemistry and a concentration in French.