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Sean Kirk’s research funded by National Science Foundation

Sean Kirk’s research funded by National Science Foundation

By Alli Bates ‘16

Otterbein students have a unique opportunity to engage in hands-on research beginning as early as their first-year on campus. Sometimes, they can lead to bigger opportunities with global applications.

Sean Kirk, a junior Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student, conducted research as part of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa. The program was funded by the National Science Foundation.

“These are very competitive positions,” said Otterbein Professor and Kirk’s research mentor Jennifer Bennett. “It’s rare for a student to get accepted into an REU program following their first year. He’s an excellent student that used this intensive research experience to bring new skills back to our labs.”

“Professor Bennett offered me the opportunity to participate in research at Duquesne University. I spent spring semester looking into REU opportunities but didn’t have much luck. Fortunately, this awesome opportunity presented itself to me through her connections,” said Kirk.

Kirk brought the techniques that he learned back with him to finish his microbial genetics project at Otterbein with the goal of later defending an honors project during his senior year.

“I was privileged to work with Duquesne professor Joe McCormick, Ph.D. students and other undergraduates in his lab. They were all willing to help me and pass on their experience as researchers,” said Kirk.

Kirk gained an incredible experience over the summer, working with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows at a large research university. He worked alongside other undergraduates from around the United States enrolled in the REU program at Duquesne.

Kirk’s research characterized eight random transposon developmental mutants in Streptomyces coelicolor. Streptomyces’s are soil bacteria responsible for the production of approximately 80 percent of medically utilized antibiotics. His research is considered “basic” science as opposed to “applied” science; thus, he spends time to further the understanding of the organism and its genes. Kirk also explains his biggest challenge was staying positive when performing experiments.

“I personally learned that when an opportunity presents itself, even if it is out of your comfort zone, take a leap and go for it! There are only so many opportunities to make your education really mean something, and most of the time all you have to is reach out and grab what’s in front of you,” said Kirk. 

Learn more about Otterbein's Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program.