|Fulbright Fellowship Will Launch Senior's Post-Graduate Research Career in a German Lab
April 07, 2011
by Emily Matras '12
|Mary Gearing '11
Senior Mary Gearing knew she wanted to be a biology major the first day of Bio 111 at Davidson.
Four years later, she's found a way to extend study of the science she loves after graduation. Gearing has received a Fulbright grant that will allow her to conduct pancreatic research at the Heinrich-Heine-University in Dusseldorf, Germany, during the upcoming academic year. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program fosters cultural exchange by funding research or study projects abroad for exceptional U.S. graduates.
Gearing will spend ten months working in Dr. Eckhard Lammert's lab at the university, researching how insulin secretion in mice is influenced by the signaling between beta cells.
The research could have a real impact on treatments for diabetes in humans. "With diabetes, the body doesn't produce enough insulin, or cells don't respond to insulin as they should, resulting in high blood sugar," Gearing explained. "Current diabetes treatments involve increasing insulin secretion whether food is present or not. This lack of regulation can cause hypoglycemia, an undesired side effect. Our research with signaling pathways will hopefully uncover new drug targets that would avoid much of this hypoglycemic effect."
Malcolm Campbell, professor of biology and Gearing's adviser, took notice of Gearing in his classes and knew she'd be a strong candidate for the Fulbright. "She stood out because she had a plan for herself," he said. "Often a student makes good plans but doesn't follow through, or vice versa. But Mary had a plan and executed it. Her successful conclusion was just Mary being Mary."
Gearing has an admirable track record of success. She's a biology honors candidate with extensive experience in lab work. In 2009, she competed in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, where she and her team received a gold medal for their presentation. Last summer she worked in a lab at the University of Utah, researching pancreatic development in mice. That was how she made a contact with the lab in Dusseldorf, and thus found a sponsor for her Fulbright Grant.
Gearing said her biology courses at Davidson have also helped prepare her for the research she'll be doing abroad. "Most upper level bio classes have labs, so we get to move beyond just reading the textbook," she said. "The emphasis is on experimental analysis, and I've learned to think critically like a scientist."
Gearing had reasons other than her interest in the Dusseldorf lab's research to seek a Fulbright to Germany. During the Davidson Classics Semester Abroad her sophomore year, she visited Germany and fell in love with the country. When she returned to campus, she started taking German language courses. She's not yet fluent, and acknowledges that the language barrier might be a bit of a challenge. "The scientists I'll be working with publish in English, but I anticipate having to use German day-to-day in the lab," Gearing said. "I think learning all the German scientific vocabulary will be especially hard."
Gearing hopes that her scientific experience abroad will give her insight into cross-cultural collaboration. "Biology has become such a global field, and there's often collaboration across countries," she said. "The Fulbright will allow me to experience how another country does science."
Professor Campbell's hopes for Gearing lie more within the realm of personal development. "I hope that living abroad is a transformative experience for her," he said. "I hope she's open to all the unexpected things that come her way."
Because she received the Fulbright Fellowship, Gearing has been able to defer her admission into a Ph.D. program at Harvard University, for which she received a full scholarship.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.