Student Research Project Testimonials

Biology Department
221 Science Center
State University of New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY 14063
(716) 673-3282

I graduated from SUNY Fredonia in 2012 with a B.S. in Molecular Genetics and a minor in Chemistry, and am currently a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Graduate Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The most important part of my education at Fredonia was definitely the two years I spent researching protein-mRNA interactions during oogenesis in Drosophila melanogaster in Dr. Scott Ferguson's lab. I also performed research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Gene Therapy summer research program after applying for and receiving an REU fellowship.

While it's one thing to read about science in a textbook, or learn about it in lectures, nothing compares to having the opportunity to actually conduct your own research. It's not like labs you do for class-- there is
no "right" answer, no known endpoint or outcome. You design your own experiments to answer an unknown. There's nothing more satisfying than knowing that when you see your result, that is the first time anyone has ever seen it. You're not reading about the cutting edge of science--you're right there, blazing the path.

While you can conduct research at most any university, what makes the research environment at Fredonia special is the environment. Everyone in the Ferguson lab was like my second family. We would study together, spend late nights in the lab together, and go out on the weekends together. When someone had a great success, we all did. Every time one of us got accepted into a graduate program or medical school, you could count on someone baking cupcakes or decorating the lab, and everyone coming together to
celebrate. Even though many of us graduated and are now scattered about at graduate and medical schools throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, we're all still very close, and will continue to be for years to come. I wouldn't trade my time spent in Dr. Ferguson's lab for anything. It gave me not only the knowledge and experience necessary to get into one of the top biomedical research graduate programs in the country, but also a sense of close comradery I know I would not have had at any other university.

Alicia Watson
B.S. in Molecular Genetics, Class of 2012
Ph.D. student, Interdisciplinary Biomedical Graduate Studies, University of Pittsburgh


I first visited the biology department during my senior year of high school. The department was smaller than others I had visited, and I quickly learned this was the main strength that provided a strong foundation for someone who wanted to excel in biological research. I earned my Bachelors and Masters Degrees in the Biology Department at SUNY Fredonia. The time I spent working at Fredonia provided me with huge advantages that I fully appreciated during my Ph.D. interviews. The small classes allowed me to become very close to all of the faculty. It was nice to always have one on one time with the faculty if I had a question that needed to be answered in greater detail. Small questions led to bigger questions, which led to discussions that developed my critical thinking skills. I feel you cannot get this at bigger universities where you are just a number.

I was involved in research at Fredonia for 3 ½ years. I began my research path in Dr. Matthew Fountain's laboratory using lanthinides to characterize tandem mismatch mutations in short DNA sequences. This pushed me to use the knowledge I acquired in my classes, read primary literature, plan experiments, and produce data for publication. This summer project was funded by the Holmberg Foundation, which is one of the many summer research fellowships offered at SUNY Fredonia.

During my senior year, I continued my undergraduate research in Dr. Scott Ferguson's laboratory. There I studied the effects of DNA damage on insulin signaling using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. In Dr. Ferguson’s lab I found my niche – research in genetics and molecular biology. I started outperforming simple phenotype characterization and eventually worked my way up to performing more advanced fluorescence microscopy experiments. These experiments helped me earn a spot on Dr. Ferguson's first publication at SUNY Fredonia as second author. This was the highlight of my undergrad career.

In order to gain more experience prior to embarking on a Ph.D. I decided to pursue a Master's degree at SUNY Fredonia. Dr. Ferguson was generous enough to take me under his wing and allow me to independently develop my thesis project. My research identified and characterized a mutant gene that affects eggshell patterning in Drosophila melanogaster. I was given full independence to develop the project. This allowed me to really dive into the researcher mentality as I had to become better at reading primary literature, planning experiments, interpreting data, and conveying that data to the scientific community. This was also the point at which I really started to develop my public speaking skills.

Overall, I would not trade anything in the world for the experiences I had at SUNY Fredonia. In my six years, goals became a reality; the faculty became colleagues; and the knowledge acquired in the classroom translated to research. Being in a small department led to so many advantages that gave me a significant boost in my Ph.D. interviews. I have been accepted into Carnegie Mellon's Cell and Developmental Biology Ph.D. program and I credit my preparation to the wonderful people in the Biology Department.

Malachi Blundon
B.S. in Molecular Genetics, Class of 2010
M.S. in Biology, Class of 2012
Ph.D. student, Cell and Developmental Biology, Carnegie Mellon University



I spent this summer performing research under Dr. Scott Medler’s supervision. We compared the anatomy and physiology of ghost and fiddler crabs. We did a direct comparison to see why ghost crabs are faster runners than their close relative the fiddler crabs. Using a high-speed camera and a treadmill we compared the stride frequencies of the two species, and determined how frequency changed as a function of body mass. We also took measurements of the crabs’ limb dimensions and used these parameters to determine the relationship between the crabs muscular cross sectional area of the leg, and the crabs mass. Lastly we weighted the ghost crabs with lead weights to see if it made any impact on their running performance. This was done in order to experimentally manipulate the relationship between the crabs’ mass and running frequency.

To me the research meant an opportunity to learn about something I had never thought of before. Considering that I am a track and cross country runner, the comparison of running performances was very interesting to me. The summer fellowship offered a way to get hands on lab experience, hypothesize about scientific data, and it gave me a way to apply my statistical knowledge into the world of science. I walked out of this summer with a better understanding for research, chemical reactions, and practical lab protocols such as gel electrophoreses and silver staining. In general the research gave me an idea of what aspects of biology I am interested in for my future.

Steve Whittemore
Double major – Medical Technology and Biology, Class of 2014



During the fall semester of my junior year as a Molecular Genetics major at Fredonia, I began a research project related to my specific interests within the field. This independent project has allowed me to do more advanced and focused work in micro and molecular biology than a classroom setting would allow.

My research uses 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis to identify microorganisms present in biofilms along the banks of Canadaway Creek. While working on this project, I learned skills and techniques that would be useful in any molecular biology lab and was exposed to real life applications of the principles and functions of biology class work.

The initial exposure to this world of research prompted me to consider a career in the field, so I began to look into summer internships that would aid my resume and offer me real world lab experience. I was accepted into a 10 week summer research training program (Research Experience for Undergraduates, REU for short) at Virginia Tech sponsored by the National Science Foundation. While there, I worked in a molecular microbiology lab that uses Myxococcus xanthus as a model organism to study type IV pili (T4P). My project involved constructing a novel expression vector to be used in later genetic studies in M. xanthus to further elucidate the biology of proteins comprising the T4P machinery. REU programs are great experiences for anyone who is excited about specific areas of research that normally wouldn’t be able to come into contact with unless pursuing graduate studies. 

Before my REU at Virginia Tech, I didn’t know what graduate level research entailed. I had serious doubts about whether or not I wanted to pursue research as a career and commit to something like grad school. My research experiences this past summer helped to clarify these concerns, allowed me to contextualize myself within an environment of serious academic research and provided me with real world experience that will allow me to make a well informed decision about my future in the discipline. 

Going into my senior year, my experiences with serious and focused research helped clearly define my goals and move forward with plans to continue graduate work in the field with an idea of what is in store. I would never have qualified for an REU, or even considered the possibility of pursuing research as an undergrad if not for my initial research experiences at Fredonia. I certainly would not be as prepared for graduate studies if I hadn’t first gained invaluable hands on experience at both Fredonia and Virginia Tech.

Nick Catanzaro
Molecular Genetics major, Class of 2013


During my time doing research at SUNY Fredonia, I have gained a great deal of hands-on experience in the laboratory and feel like I have a much firmer grasp of the concepts I first learned in lectures.  I've had to apply my conceptual knowledge of genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry and development, as well as my laboratory knowledge of making solutions, concentrations, acids and bases, and buffers.

For example, I've gained a deeper understanding of one of the most fundamental and important concepts in biology, the central dogma of molecular biology (DNA <-> RNA -> protein).  In our research, we used a specific sequence of DNA to make RNA transcripts using a transcription kit, determined the concentration of RNA produced by quantifying it using spectrophotometry, and then created chemical solutions called for by a published protocol to react with certain regions of the transcripts for later analysis.  We used reverse transcriptase to regenerate DNA from the modified RNA and then determined where potential secondary structures existed on the folded RNA it by running the DNA on a laser electrophoresis apparatus.  We then fed this data into computer software which predicted possible
secondary structures of the RNA.

I was awarded a SUNY Fredonia summer research fellowship, and after doing research for a semester and a summer, I feel confident that I could take on projects of my own in future research.  Not only that, but I've learned that I actually enjoy it very much, and it gives me a great sense of pride when I explain my project to friends and family (and to interviewers!!).  I'd recommend doing research to any student who wants to learn how new scientific knowledge is actually discovered and to get a chance to work one-on-one with some great professors.

Dave DiPalma
Biology major, Class of 2013


At SUNY Fredonia I studied smallmouth bass population genetics. The main concept behind my research was based on the observation that some smallmouth bass live and spawn in Lake Erie where as others live in the lake but spawn in Lake Erie’s tributaries. We wondered if these two different types of smallmouth bass spawners were genetically distinct from each other. To answer this question I started work on a research project when I was an undergraduate and I worked with Cassidy Hahn who was a Master’s student at SUNY Fredonia at the time. We collected smallmouth bass tissue samples from a variety of locations in Lake Erie as well as its tributaries. We then used molecular techniques to assess if there were genetic distinctions between the two types of spawners. The work Cassidy and I conducted suggested these different types of spawners we genetically distinct.

I decided to continue my research on smallmouth bass for my Master’s at SUNY Fredonia and during that time I was able to collect more smallmouth bass tissue samples from other locations and I was also able to be involved in a radio telemetry study. The radio telemetry study investigated if smallmouth bass returned to the same location to spawn in consecutive years, this is known as site fidelity. Site fidelity is one mechanism that could help to explain the genetic differentiation Cassidy and I observed. To assess if smallmouth bass were displaying site fidelity we surgically implanted transmitters into smallmouth bass spawning in tributaries of Lake Erie as well as others spawning the lake itself. These transmitters were designed to “beep” at very specific radio frequencies and this “beep” could be heard using special equipment. We used this technology to follow the movement of 90 smallmouth bass throughout their spawning season for two consecutive years. Our radio telemetry results corroborated with the genetic work we were conducting. We are currently in the process of submitting our research results to a peer review journal.

I had no idea that committing to the smallmouth bass research project would kindle a passion for population genetics in me but I am certainly happy that it did for a variety of reasons. Conducting research showed me the importance of paying attention to details and perseverance. Research is not always easy and certain aspects of the project may not go according to plan. I experienced the ups and downs of research first hand and it taught me to figure out why things didn’t work and to correct the issues. It also aided in my ability to critically think for myself and consequently I became more comfortable reading peer review literature which is how scientists communicate their research. My research experience has driven me to constantly work towards advancing my understanding of ecology, evolution, and genetics as well. Throughout the four years I conducted research at SUNY Fredonia I learned many valuable techniques both in the field and the lab. I was able to harness the power of population genetics to answer important ecological questions about smallmouth bass using these techniques. As with anything it takes practice to be good at what you do. My research project provided me with the opportunity to hone skills I learned in SUNY Fredonia’s Biology classes and labs. These techniques have proved very useful for my career. I believe that my research endeavors at SUNY Fredonia gave me a competitive edge when applying to Ph.D. programs because research experience is an important factor assessed when applying. My advisor and other professors involved in my project at SUNY Fredonia were also great people to ask for letters of recommendation which are often required for post graduate work/studies. Based on my research experience at SUNY Fredonia I would highly recommend that anyone interested in a career in biology work on a research project when they are an undergraduate student.

Nick Sard
B.S in Biology, Class of 2009
M.S. in Biology, Class of 2011
Ph.D. student, Fisheries Science, Oregon State University


The focus of my research was on the differences of metabolic properties of skeletal muscle fiber isoforms in obese versus normal mice. The experience of completing this project at Fredonia was very beneficial. All of the necessary tools and apparatuses were readily available for all of the students involved in this study. We were given keys to the laboratory to allow us to work on the project at our convenience and Dr. Medler was available to help throughout the day or via e-mail as needed. Dr. Medler was a great instructor who was very knowledgeable in all aspects of this particular study – he would work one- on-one with students to develop a clear understanding of hypotheses, purpose of techniques, and significance of data. Overall, my research experience at Fredonia was wonderful. It has given me preparation for graduate school and I would suggest it to any student who is considering participation.

Abbas Rivzi
B.S. in Biology, Class of 2012


 During my junior and senior years at SUNY Fredonia I was involved in a research project under the mentorship of Dr. Scott Ferguson in the fields of molecular biology and genetics. The thing that surprised me about this endeavor was how much it helped me to realize who I was as a scientist, a learner, and a teammate and how much it truly prepared me for the roads ahead.

My research project was an exploration into the development and application of a novel technique, Trimolecular Fluorescence Complementation (TriFC), for the visualization of protein-mRNA interactions in real time in living Drosophila (fruit fly) ova. For this project, several unique DNA constructs were engineered, which fell into three categories. The first: a specific protein of interest (Squid in our case) harboring a truncated fluorescent protein half. The second: an mRNA strand (grk) known to bind the protein of interest, with an experimentally added stem loop motif. Finally, the third complex featured an MCP viral protein (known to bind stem loops) adjacent to the remainder of the truncated fluorescent protein. These constructs were transgenically incorporated into the genetic makeup of several Drosophila lines in order to induce the production of their respective proteins. The fundamentals of this technique lie in a phenomenon called complementation. The fluorescent proteins we chose are non-fluorescent when separated into truncated domains, yet spontaneously recombine (complement) to yield fluorescence when oriented close to one another. Thus, it was our theory that the florescence would act as a marker for when and where grk mRNA and Sqd protein were interacting within the living ova. Indeed, after examination via confocal microscopy, fluorescence was revealed that corresponded to patterns expected for the Sqd-grk system. These exciting results supported the efficacy of this technique, and made me the first person to utilize TriFC in the model organism Drosophila. In the upcoming years this experimentation will be repeated under the capable hands of my former colleagues, using altered parameters based on flaws in method that I helped to find, to improve the technique. The ultimate goal is that our Drosophila TriFC protocol will be perfected and available for use worldwide by scientists eager to examine protein-mRNA interactions in real time in an inexpensive and easy to culture living model organism.

I shared this information with an admissions board professor during my interview at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine. He seemed impressed, and most of the interview was spent discussing my research.   The very next day I received a letter from UB and ecstatically shared the news with my family that, out of 4000 applicants, I was one of only 144 accepted to medical school.

I could not be happier with the training I received during my two years of research at SUNY Fredonia because of how much it prepared and benefited me for the future. Dr. Ferguson respected our research team as capable and professional colleagues, and put emphasis on working both as individuals and with our team. As a result, I established deep and lifelong friendships in my lab mates, learned to collaborate with others, expanded my scientific mind and ability to think critically, and grew as an individual learner. Furthermore, it is likely that a publication with my name as one of the authors will serve as another tangible benefit in the near future.

I have come to realize, after just two weeks of medical school, that these attributes will continue to help me throughout my career.  An uncontrollable smile spread across my face on the third day of class as our professor stated that research experience, and ideally publication, in medical school is one of the most important factors in obtaining a good residency, and a strong undergraduate research background would widen the window of research opportunities in the years to come. Consequently, I have recently been meeting with my professors about starting research at the medical school this school year and summer, and potentially applying for the MD/PhD program. My prospects are already promising.

The benefits of my undergraduate research will extend far beyond the next few years. The medical world is changing, and these days doctors are expected to know about genetics and molecular biology, and medical students are expected to be experienced and comfortable with performing research. Furthermore, to be a successful physician one must function both individually as a scientist and collaboratively with his team, and he must think critically, quickly, and sharply for his patient’s sake.  My research experience at SUNY Fredonia has already planted the seeds for this necessary personal growth.

I was fortunate to have such a wonderful and beneficial research opportunity right at my fingertips. I am grateful to the caring and invested professors in the biology department at Fredonia, who do a wonderful job providing their students with scientifically relevant, legitimate, and progressive scientific research opportunities. I will forever hold the memories of my research at Fredonia close in heart and mind.

Steven Gangloff
B.S. in Biology, Class of 2012
University of Buffalo School of Medicine, Class of 2016


 I have been fortunate enough to do research under Dr. Harrington, a biology professor at SUNY Fredonia, for about two and a half years now.  We work on extracting lipids from Microalgea for alternative energy purposes. My project has focused on the lipid production pathway and investigating how we can maximize this process to produce the highest lipid content. The variables we changed were the nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the media provided to our algae cells. We change these media concentrations over time in order to monitor changes in lipid production. As soon as the desired cell growth was reached we would harvest these cells, break them open and monitor the lipid concentrations. In order to observe this we quantified mRNA levels that code for Acetyl-CoA Carboxylase, a key enzyme in the lipid production pathway, and Thiolase, an enzyme involved in lipid degradation. Furthermore, we are currently developing an non-radioactive assay in order to directly measure Acetyl-CoA Carboxylase as a functioning protein.

After I had performed research for two semesters, I applied for a SUNY summer research fellowship. Developing the summer research proposal was a challenging but valuable experience. I was grateful for the opportunity because if I pursue a career in research, I will have to write grant proposals on a regular basis. I was awarded a fellowship, lived on my own and worked in the lab all summer learning how to spread my wings. Upon returning to campus for the fall semester, I submitted my work for presentation at a research symposium in Albany. My poster was selected and off I went to Albany! Presenting to the state legislators was an intimidating yet liberating experience. I connected with other research students and professionals from Fredonia and across NYS. I met others who were passionate about doing research and learned about their projects. I am very grateful that I have had so many great opportunities to expand my abilities and test myself. 

Throughout my time doing research at the SUNY Fredonia Biology department I have grown tremendously. At first you wonder how you will ever be able to do the things you see students above you doing. But in time, and with much help from the professors, I gained the confidence and knowledge necessary to perform extractions and experiments that I never thought I would do.  Dr. Harrington has challenged me by having me develop protocols and search for answers as a real scientist would. He guided me through concepts beyond my understanding and helped me perceive things in a way that I never thought to see before. It was this coupled assistance through the known tough subjects with the encouragement to face the unknown challenges that I feel Dr. Harrington, and the entire staff at the Biology department, have helped me understand what it truly means to be a leader and a scientist. My goal is to eventually obtain my PhD and become a college professor. Doing research as an undergraduate has prepared me for my next steps towards this dream. 

Michelle Sudyn
Molecular Genetics major, Class of 2013



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