An Interview with Beth Lemmon, Our Undergraduate Scholar

About the author: Elahe is starting her second year as a Mechanical Engineering PhD Student. She is a steering committee member and publicist of the WiE (Women in Engineering) at UD and has started off her graduate research in Killian Lab since Spring 2017. She is interested in investigating the role of Fgf receptors and ligands on mechanical behavior of the tendon-bone attachment.

For this post, Elahe interviewed Beth Lemmon, an INBRE scholar and CANR undergraduate researcher in the Killian lab.

Elahe (E): Let’s start with the question of what brought you to the University of Delaware Pre-vet Program?

Beth (B): I always knew that I wanted to go to a field that incorporates both medicine and science. Growing up I rode horses. This was my initial spark of compassion for animals. I started to work at two veterinary clinics during high school which confirmed my love for veterinary medicine. After applying to different programs. University of Delaware, with a competitive pre-vet program, was definitely the best fit for me.

(E): What brought you to Killian lab?

(B): After doing Microbiome research I found it not to be the best fit for me. My interest in orthopedic and sports medicine initiated my interest in joining Killian Lab. The interdisciplinary research approach at Killian lab, incorporating engineering, biology, physiology, cellular and molecular biology, has made different opportunities available in the lab.

(E): How has Killian group contributed to your work as a researcher?

(B): I appreciate everyone in the lab. Lab meetings have been a great setup for me to exchange ideas. Ryan and Ania have been engaged in the recent project with me were instrumental and a great support system. Dr. Killian, on the other hand, while steering me in the right direction, has been immensely supportive and helped me develop my own style of research and come to independent conclusions.

(E): Can you give an overview of your current project?

(B): Of course! The Rotator cuff with two prominent muscle groups, infraspinatus and supraspinatus, is commonly torn in humans of different age groups. This project investigated the properties of the enthesis post injury. Using punch biopsy, I created an in-vivo defect in rat subjects. The defects were studied at 3 and 8-week timepoints to understand the proliferation of cells and the overall remodeling of the tissue at site of the injury. The objective was to understand the proliferation of healing response of the tendon and the composition of the tear at the site of defect.

(E): What is the next step of this project?

(B): Ryan and I have continued the project by implementing the same defect in a different location. To improve the design the defect moved to the outside region of the tendon. In the strain mapping project, using cadavers, we looked at alignment of tendon fibers under mechanical loading to investigate the defect propagation and strain distribution within the tissue.

In future, the strain mapping project can be continued in-vivo to study the healing response of the enthesis. The effects of pharmaceutical options such as bisphosphonates on healing properties of the enthesis can also be studied as well as immobilization of the defect region.

(E): What are your goals as a researcher?

(B): Veterinary school has always been a definite goal for me. Over the past few years I learned that I want to incorporate medicine into the practice I go into. I would love to continue doing research throughout my career and if I am fortunate enough to do so and I would really like to be doing clinical research with animals and set the tone for human medical research foundation.

Last year, while working for a veterinarian, we had a case of an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy that had idiopathic patellar degeneration in the right hind limb, a disease common between dogs and humans. In these cases, leg amputation is a typical practice, since the degeneration worsens with age. This case initiated a collaboration between orthopedic surgeons, the veterinary school at UC-Davis, and a radiologist at Johns Hopkins. They designed a surgical intervention method to allow for the normal growth of the bone around a 3d printed patella to save the leg. If successful in dogs, they were hoping to extend this method to human cases. This study, together with my research at Killian Lab has inspired me to strive to build to a career to help an animal in the present and hopefully help humans down the line.

(E): Are there any suggestions that you might have for applying to graduate school?

(B): It is never too early to talk to experts of different field and ask questions. Even as a freshman, ask your professor for supplemental material on their research and try to find a subject that you want to learn more about.

Your first research group does not have to be the right fit. Don’t be afraid to be in a research group and say that this is not what I want to do. That is the whole point of starting research

(E): What are some qualities that you looked for in a good mentor?

(B): I think it is very important for a mentor to be a good fit. For me, it is important to have a supportive mentor that I can bounce ideas off and pushes me to be the best that I can be.

(E): What is the most important reason for your interest in research?

(B): Research, contrary to course work, is always challenging. It involves trials and errors and there is always room for improvement. I believe that there are values that you only learn from a rigorous research experience. I have learned through research how to troubleshoot problems and how to approach problems from different angles without giving up. I would say that this challenging nature of research is the most important reason for my interest.

(E): How do you balance your social/professional life?

(B): First and foremost, I try not to overbook myself, because I am a firm believer that the second I spread myself thin I will not be able to give 100% to each facet of my life. I prioritize what is important to me and set a time that I need to give to each of them, whether it is research, school, or clubs and activities. Second, I am willing to turn down opportunities that might have been attractive but would require time commitments I would not be able to afford. I surround myself with people who have the same values, are like me and highly motivated. I also make sure stick to the core activities that I love, regardless of my busy schedule. I run and horseback ride and no matter how busy I get, I try to make time for these hobbies of mine.

(E): What is your process of finding the answers to a very new project you want to start working on?

(B): To be a good researcher in my opinion, you need to admit to what you don’t know! Do not fake knowing things. Because you are putting the resources of the lab and the group at risk. But it is also important to make every effort to know. Personally, to find the answers to a new question, I go to the literature for a review of the subject. I talk to experts in the field, lab members and collaborators. Finally, when I do find an answer, I always look for someone to double check with.

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