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Wofford students present research at professional conference

Thursday, December 13, 2007

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Sometimes a little research goes a long way, and sometimes a lot of research can enable you to go a long way.  A long way from home, that is. 

Just ask Wofford College seniors Laura Smith and Laura Murray.

The two students, along with assistant professor of biology Dr. Stacey Hettes, attended the annual Society for Neuroscience Meeting in San Diego, Calif., Nov. 3-7, 2007. While there, they presented research they had conducted during their junior year as part of Hettes’ Introduction to Research course.

Their presentation, titled “UBP 296 Suppresses Feeding Elicited by Lateral Hypothalamic Injection of ATPA,” describes their research regarding the brain’s regulation of feeding behavior.

“Each week, we would inject the (laboratory) rats with two drugs,” Murray describes. “We would then observe the rats' behaviors and measure how much food they ate in a 90-minute period.” 

At the end of the research period, the students were able to determine that one of the drugs (UBP 296) does indeed block the feeding behavior elicited by the other drug (ATPA).  Armed with this information, Hettes suggested that Murray and Smith present their findings at the Society for Neuroscience conference. According to Hettes, “As a member, I am invited to submit an abstract to the annual meeting each year.  Thus I was able to sponsor Laura and Laura’s presentation.”

The opportunity to travel to a professional conference and present their findings proved to be quite exciting to the students.  “It was so rewarding to be able to present the results of our class's hard work at the conference and it really gave me a sense of what it feels like to be a researcher,” Smith says. 

She feels this opportunity wouldn’t have been possible were she not a Wofford student. “Being a student at Wofford has really enhanced my ability to take part in these types of activities and has broadened my horizons.”

Smith continues, “My professors at Wofford go above and beyond their normal duties to motivate, inspire and encourage their students to pursue any interests they have. If that interest is research, they teach their students first-hand about the scientific research process, and work very hard to make opportunities such as this to their students.”

Murray and Smith met with Hettes once a week to prepare a poster to take with them to the conference.  The poster illustrated their findings and detailed the data they had collected over the course of the project.

Presenters at the conference come from all over the world, and it is an honor for all involved, particularly for young researchers. “It is quite rare for undergraduate students to have the opportunity to present at this national convention,” says Hettes. “Most research posters are presented by professors, post-doctoral researchers, or graduate students.”

While the research was time consuming, and stressful at times, both Murray and Smith agree that if they had it to do over again, they would work just as hard.  “I feel very fortunate to have had opportunities such as this at Wofford,” says Smith.

Murray agrees. “It was a great experience overall, something different that any class I've ever taken at Wofford. I was honored to get to go.” 

Wofford has long encouraged students to conduct research alongside their professors.  Through programs such as the Community of Scholars, a program designed to foster collegiality through a 10-week summer program and to create cross-disciplinary dialogue among students and faculty conducting research in the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, members of the Wofford community stress the importance of research in the educational process.