Shannon Hill giving expert guidance in Lieberman lab
Aug 8, 2015 | Atlanta, GA
So you’ve decided to become a mentor for an undergraduate student, but you’re not sure who is going to walk through that laboratory door.
“You have some undergrads who have never even touched a pipette before, and then you have some who have spent a lot of time researching in a lab,” says Shannon Hill, a mentor in the Petit Undergraduate Research Scholarship program. “You’re not sure who you’ll be dealing with.”
And that’s sort of the point of becoming a Petit Scholar mentor – the opportunity to learn how to work with anyone. This is preparation for whatever may come next.
“Working with different personalities and backgrounds and learning styles only improves your people skills, your ability to patiently train people,” says Hill, a post-doctoral fellow who works in the lab of Raquel Lieberman with Petit Undergraduate Scholar Michelle Kwon. “Michelle had no lab experience, but she’s a great learner and has picked up everything we’ve taught her very quickly, quicker than most.”
Hill, who earned her Ph.D. in physics from the University of South Florida, believes that the ability to work with anyone who walks through that door, or sits down in the classroom, will make her a better professor one day. And it’s something she’s been aware of throughout her educational career.
While this is her first experience in the Petit Scholars program, she’s mentored 15 students during her time as a post-doc and a graduate student and learned early on that no two student researchers are alike. With Kwon, she got lucky.
“Michelle is motivated to go beyond what my expectations are,” says Hill, who wants to be a professor with a lab of her own at some point. “She sees what needs to be done, and she does it. As a mentor, regardless of your student’s skill sets and experience level, your job is to help make their projects better, to help them move forward. Progress looks different for different people.”
For Hill, the college experience began with an interest in what she calls, “the medical side of things, and then I fell in love with physics.”
And then she met Martin Muschol, a professor who would become her Ph.D. thesis advisor. He introduced her to biophysics, “and that helped bridge my two interests together,” she says.
It was through the mentorship of Muschol and Dr. Chad Dickey at the University of South Florida Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute that Hill ultimately found her way to her current work at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“Dr. Muschol was responsible for my training and the nature of my thesis project, which was very interdisciplinary,” she says. “And my doctoral work included a collaboration with Dr. Dickey, who eventually introduced me to Dr. Lieberman, suggesting the two of us would be a great fit.”
Hill’s research focuses on how the body uses proteins to sustain itself and she wants to know, “when these proteins become misfolded, how does that relate to disease pathology.”
An offshoot of Hill’s research, Kwon’s project is entitled, "Engineering mutant myocilin for a more thermally stable protein." It’s the kind of project that probably typifies the Petit Scholar experience.
“There’s longevity to the program, which is great, because it’s an entire year of research, which is a big commitment for an undergrad,” says Lieberman, associate professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “It also requires quite a commitment from the mentors, who put in a lot of effort, because it takes a long time to get someone trained and up to speed to do anything advanced in the laboratory.”
In Lieberman’s experience, Petit Scholars who have worked in her lab have been authors on research papers and were intimately involved in the discoveries that emerged.
“They were able to see the results of their work,” Lieberman says. “And it goes both ways. Our mentors are able to see their students’ progress. Someone like Shannon, who will continue in science and a career that will probably include leadership and running a lab, this kind of exposure is extremely helpful. I know that it’s been helpful in my career.”
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience