Where bedside manner meets lab skills, you’ll find Jacelyn Peabody
Phage Hunters freshman course sequence,
J-Term study tours shaped her hybrid career path
Jacelyn Peabody ’15 doesn’t do boring.
Enticed by the prospect of working with patients and using detective skills to identify the cause of each illness, she arrived at Carthage determined to be a doctor. She knew plenty of research would be required on that path, but the idea of spending a career in the lab didn’t mesh with her personality.
Then again, her initial negative opinion of research came mainly from canned experiments in high school — the kind that successive classes perform over and over.
“You know exactly what results you’re going to get,” she said. “That was so boring.”
A fresh look at research
2014 Intern of the Year
Her performance during a summer internship at the University of Minnesota earned Jacelyn Peabody the first Intern of the Year Award at Carthage. The award was presented at the Celebration of Scholars on Friday, May 2.
Award info and nominees
Sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance, the two-semester course has students isolate and analyze bacteriophages — viruses that infect bacteria. One of the phages is submitted for DNA sequencing, and students’ research is entered into the federal GenBank database for future study.
The original research holds potential for future treatment of bacterial diseases.
“You’re extracting a brand new phage nobody has ever seen before,” Jacelyn said, comparing the experience of looking into the electron microscope to a pregnant woman’s first look at her baby via ultrasound.
She has learned that peers at larger institutions often must wait several years to gain the research experience that Carthage freshmen pick up from Phage Hunters. Her boyfriend’s brother, a medical student in another state, was amazed that she got to use such specialized equipment so early.
“At his school, they don’t even let the undergrads know what room the electron microscope is in,” Jacelyn said, “let alone use it.”
The course hooked her, and suddenly the lab coat looked pretty enticing. Research appeared on her career radar screen.
Then she registered to travel to Nicaragua during the 2013 J-Term. Twice each year, biology professor Patrick Pfaffle and geography/earth science professor Matthew Zorn lead a study tour to the island of Ometepe.
While other students on the tour worked to improve water distribution and purification on the island, Jacelyn participated in the long-standing medical mission.
“The Nicaragua trip was the only time in my life so far that, instead of shadowing the doctor, I was the doctor,” she said. “I was able to apply everything I learned to actually treating patients, yet still had the safety net of a Nicaraguan or American doctor guiding me as needed.”
Working alongside local physicians, she diagnosed illnesses, gave inoculations, and filled prescriptions for residents. The generosity of the people cemented her passion for patient care and inspired her to return someday to help them again.
“It was incredibly rewarding that I drastically improved someone’s quality of life by giving them the medicine that would cure the crippling parasitic worm infection,” she said. “The people were even thankful when all we had to give them were multivitamins or over-the-counter cold medicine.”
All of the above
At that point, her future plans officially became a dilemma. After her experiences at Carthage heightened her interest in both medical research and treating patients, how could she choose one?
Turns out she doesn’t have to. Through the College’s annual Smeds Executive Internship Program, Jacelyn completed a 10-week internship at the University of Minnesota during summer 2013 that introduced her to the hybrid life of a physician-scientist.
Under the guidance of Dr. Bryan Williams, she worked in a clinic and related laboratory for cystic fibrosis patients. She conducted research, attended classroom lectures, shadowed physicians, and even saw patients at the Center for Lung Science and Health.
Having just completed her sophomore year, Jacelyn was known affectionately as the “baby” of the Minnesota research team. The other interns all were upperclassmen.
“I had a lot more research than a lot of the seniors in that program because of Phage Hunters,” she said. “I wouldn’t have made it without that.”
Dr. Williams studies a type of bacteria that leads to chronic lung infections and resists common antibiotics, causing the majority of deaths among cystic fibrosis patients. He typically spent four days a week in the laboratory and one day in the clinic each week.
“The patient-inspired research was just so cool,” Jacelyn said. “The MD side makes his research better, and the Ph.D. side makes his clinical practice better. It was just a great balance.”
Jacelyn said the schedule allowed Dr. Williams to spend plenty of time with his wife and kids, and to take the team out each Friday. Team members joked that cells don’t care what time they’re cultured.
“He showed that it was all possible. It wasn’t a trade-off,” she said.
Equipped with diverse skill set
Her momentum keeps building. Given her pick of several 2014 summer internships, Jacelyn chose one at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. There, once again as part of the Smeds program, she’ll work on a research project in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.
So it’s settled. She doesn’t plan to be a doctor or a researcher. She plans to be both.
The dozen or so medical scientist training programs she’s considering have an even more competitive application process than traditional medical school, Jacelyn said. But she likes her chances, thanks to the variety of skills she has gained or refined at Carthage.
Besides Phage Hunters, she has worked with Professor Timothy Eckert on organic chemistry techniques and performed brain surgery on rats in the Neuroscience Laboratory. Dan Miller, director of the Neuroscience Program, said he admires her “passion for experiencing a wide spectrum of research techniques.”
Too often, he said, researchers limit their questions to the technology they have in their labs.
“A clinically based researcher has no choice but to be dynamic in her approach to research questions, and I think Jace is well equipped intellectually and experientially to pursue that course in her professional life,” Prof. Miller said.
In addition, she broadened her understanding of global health care systems during a second J-Term study tour. In January 2014, she traveled to Guatemala with professors Eckert and Edward Montanaro. She learned about traditional medicine and gave a presentation to peers on Mayan medical practices.
By pursuing a range of activities, Jacelyn has compiled a resume that proves she’s “not just a bright science nerd with a knack for laboratory skills,” as Prof. Pfaffle put it. Among the lengthy list of club and honor society affiliations on her email signature, she is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Carthage Vanguard — a new interdisciplinary research journal produced entirely by students.
A side project during her Minnesota internship earned Jacelyn an audience on Capitol Hill in April through the prestigious Posters on the Hill program. There, she presented findings to members of Congress, their staff members, and federal funding agencies.
That’s right. The same woman who, not long ago, viewed undergraduate research as a necessary evil has become a national advocate for it.
Just goes to show, a Carthage education can do more than fan the flames of students’ career aspirations. Sometimes it kindles a passion they never realized they had.