Tufts ASBMB connects students to faculty research with guided tours

Junior Michaela Gold, president of Tufts American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), helped organize tours of 10 biology and chemistry department labs at 200 Boston Avenue on Friday. Jeremy Caldwell / The Tufts Daily

Approximately 40 Tufts students attended free guided tours of 10 research laboratories by biology and chemistry professors at 200 Boston Avenue on Friday. The Tufts chapter of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) sponsored the tours, which took place between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Michaela Gold, president of Tufts ASBMB, said the purpose of the tours was to help undergraduate students learn about some of the research being conducted on campus and to connect students with professors studying in fields that interest them.

“[ASBMB] is trying to get undergrads into the labs to help them start this whole research process,” Gold, a junior, said. “There aren’t a lot of labs at Tufts, and it can be hard to get into one [as an undergraduate].”

She explained that the students toured labs that focus primarily on molecular biology. These labs are run by professors and lecturers, including Juliet Fuhrman, an associate professor who focuses on immunology and infectious disease; Kelly McLaughlin, an associate professor whose work centers on molecular development; and professor of chemistry David Walt, whose lab works on infectious disease detection, cancer biomarker diagnostics and analysis of basic biological processes, according to the Tufts’ department websites.

One of the labs included in the tours is run by professor of biology Catherine Freudenreich, who uses yeast to study how genome instability contributes to genetic disease. She said she agreed to participate in the tours after she was informed about the event by Gold, who works in Freudenreich’s lab.

“[Lab tours] further enhance the interaction between students and the research labs on campus,” Freudenreich said. “It’s fun for [students] to come see where we’re doing research on campus and what it’s like.”

This is the first time Tufts ASBMB has held a tour, although Freudenreich has given tours to undergraduate students from the Boston area working with the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and has given informal tours to friends and their children.

“I like to open my lab and have people who are interested in it check it out,” she said.

According to Gold, two graduate students also spoke about their ecology research labs in Barnum Hall. These presentations, unlike the tours, were open to the public and did not require a ticket.

Gina Tomarchio, the head of social media for Tufts ASBMB, explained that many of the members of Tufts ASBMB work in the labs featured on the tours. Tomarchio said she works in associate professor of molecular biology Mitch McVey’s lab, which allowed her to provide a student perspective about working in a lab during the tours.

“[We spoke] about the labs we’re part of and were there to give more insight in terms of what’s in the labs, what the machines are, where we keep our organisms and yeast, et cetera,” Tomarchio, a junior, said.

Tomarchio added that she did not anticipate the lab tours to sell out, but all 40 available spots were taken.

“I just advertised [the tours] via Facebook,” she said. “It obviously got enough people’s attention. We had plans to spread the word through some of the intro [biology] classes, but we ended up not needing to do that.”

Tomarchio explained that many undergraduates face roadblocks when trying to work in labs.

“It’s hard when you first come into Tufts to figure out where the labs are, who’s doing research and how to get involved,” Tomarchio said. “There’s no outlet to figure that out except for exploring it on your own, so we [were] hoping to bridge that gap.”

Gold said that even when students know which labs they want to join, getting hired can be a competitive process.

“Compared to how many students want the research, there aren’t that many labs, or there are more students who want to do research than there is space,” she said. “For the past few years, that’s always been the case, probably because we have a high number of biology majors at Tufts.”

In addition to hosting the tours, Tufts ASBMB runs a weekly lecture series, during which faculty members from the chemistry and biology departments discuss the latest discoveries and ideas in the science world, according to Tomarchio.

Freudenreich explained that it is important to connect undergraduate students to professors and their research, regardless of the kind of background students may have in science.

“Even if you’ve done research in a class, it’s a totally different atmosphere in the lab,” she said. “And it’s a window into a career and into the whole enterprise of biological research.”