Today’s featured blogger is Jess Maung, ’18. Jess is a Biochemistry major and an Environmental Policy minor. Learn more about Jess here!

I have been on a crazy, rewarding, and challenging adventure doing research during my time at Union. I started doing research at the beginning of my sophomore year through my Scholars’ Research Project, and approached Professors Margot Paulick and Laura MacManus-Spencer (also known as LAMS) about doing work on a joint project they collaborate on. This project focuses on the breakdown of sunscreen chemicals and their toxicity. I started by shadowing a thesis student at the time, Hannah Stein ’16. I was shy, nervous, and didn’t want to mess anything up in the lab. I was intimidated by the research but pushed my self-doubts aside as I started my own experiments after just two weeks of shadowing. I studied the chemical kinetics of the chemical OD-PABA breaking down over time and used incredibly complex instrumentation to gain data. I continued doing research into my sophomore spring by starting a practicum, and presented a poster at Steinmetz Symposium in spring 2016.

I had the research bug and couldn’t get enough of the lab, so I did a four-week summer research fellowship at Union working on the same sunscreen project. I took on a lot more of the biology side of the project and worked extensively with cells and understanding the toxicity of sunscreen chemicals. My work in the summer of 2016 led to a supporting authorship on a peer-reviewed journal article published in Environmental Sciences: Processes & Impacts. This is a momentous feat, as not many undergraduate students get to start research as early and intensively as I did, let alone be published on a paper!

I continued my research through my junior year, starting to become much more independent, mentoring students, and was really comfortable with the lab. I now am finishing up my three-term senior thesis project, and just presented the last three of years of my research at the national American Chemical Society conference in New Orleans, LA at the end of March. I explored the city of NOLA, listened to amazing talks by award-winning faculty from around the world, and got grilled by fourth-year grad students asking me about minute details of my research. It was incredible and such an honor to represent Union at this conference. I presented both a poster from my own research and for the Union College’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Club’s accomplishments from the year.

I would not be where I am today without the guidance of Margot and LAMS, who have shaped me into the independent and mature researcher I am. I am so grateful for both of them and all they have taught me, both in and out of the lab. I know I will continue to stay in touch with them as I work through my career in science!