DPC Newsletter

Spotlight on Student Research Experiences

Volume 8, Issue 3

December 2023

UAF BLaST celebrates Scientists of the Month for October, November

By Amy Topkok

Since 2016, the Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLaST) program at UAF has highlighted scientists from all biomedical fields through its Scientist of the Month articles. Julie-Anne Brown, a fourth-year BLaST Scholar, was selected as the October 2023 BLaST Scientist of the month, and Sarah Dempsey, a third-year BLaST Scholar was selected as the November 2023 BLaST Scientist of the Month. Read more about BLaST's Scientist of the Month series on their website.

October 2023 Scientist of the Month

Julie-Anne Brown, a fourth-year BLaST Scholar, is from Roseville, California. She grew up in the military and has lived in Hawaii, Florida, and Alaska. She is applying to PhD programs in cell and molecular biology with a concentration in animal genetics.

BLaST Scholar Julie-Anne Brown, Fairbanks, Alaska

BLaST Scholar Julie-Anne Brown, Fairbanks, Alaska. Courtesy Julie-Anne Brown, 2023.

Brown is a senior and will graduate with her Bachelor of Science in biology with a concentration in physiology in May 2024. She is also a third-year UAF Honors student and climate scholar. Brown enjoys reading, going on trips with her family and hanging out with her cat Calypso while watching TV.

In her freshman year, Brown joined the rat laboratory project of Kelly Drew, PhD, where she contributed to their proposal process for a successful NIH grant.

Brown analyzed videos of rats’ post-surgical procedures to catalog abnormal behavior and now is creating graphs to look for correlation between cage temperature, body temperature and the activity noticed. She also socialized the rats to make them more tolerable to human interaction, leading to a decrease in overall stress.

Brown thanked Drew and lab technician Hoshi Sugiura for helping her navigate the research world, while also understanding the importance of research. 

“It was a slow start and at times has been difficult to make hours, but they always helped me even when I had questions which had quite simple answers,” she said. 

Brown recently joined the research team in the Ichthyology and Evolution lab at the International Arctic Research Center and University of Alaska Museum of the North, working under Maggie Harings, a fisheries graduate student, Erik Schoen, PhD, and Andrés López, PhD. Brown helps with sample preparation, DNA extraction, and PCR and gel electrophoresis on environmental DNA filters. The goal of this project is to identify the abundance of salmon DNA in the water to enhance the local capacity for sustainable fish population management in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region.

By developing this approach, the project aims to help tribal and agency scientists monitor and hopefully reverse the adverse impacts of declining salmon runs on subsistence communities.

"Julie-Anne has proven to be a diligent researcher in the lab and I have no doubt that her inquisitive nature will continue leading her down a path of success,” Harings said.

López, who oversaw Brown’s work in the research team, is her current faculty mentor.

“I am excited to have Julie-Anne work with our eDNA team and look forward to her contributions over the coming months,” Lopez said.

Brown also thanked Harings who taught her important lab skills that she will be able to use in her future as lab researcher. She also credited Hannah Robinson and Sarah Barcalow, BLaST Research Advising and Mentoring Professionals (RAMPs), for helping her navigate both research and life in general. Barcalow is a former RAMP.  

“All of you have also had a part in my studies, whether it was proctoring an exam, helping me answer a question, or just being there when I needed someone. Thank you so much,” Brown said.

Julie-Anne Brown working on graphing at her desk at UAF

Julie-Anne Brown working on graphing at her desk at UAF. Courtesy Julie-Anne Brown, 2023.

BLaST Scholar Sarah Dempsey preparing to assist in telemetry tracking in Togiak National Wildlife Refuge

BLaST Scholar Sarah Dempsey preparing to assist in telemetry tracking in Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: K. Hilwig, May 2022.

November Scientist of the Month

Sarah Dempsey, a third-year BLaST Scholar and senior at UAF, is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation with a minor in marine science. She grew up in Maryland and plans to move back to the East Coast to attend graduate school to study marine ecology. Some of her hobbies include baking, reading, film photography, fishing, hiking, and playing rugby.

For the past two years, Dempsey has been working in the lab of Shawn Crimmins, PhD, housed in the U.S. Geological Survey-Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at UAF. Their research team performed a resource selection function on 20 years of moose telemetry data from Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska.

“Using this data, we tested for a relationship between cow’s habitat selection and their lifetime calf survival rate,” Dempsey said.  

Dempsey has presented her research at UAF’s Midnight Sun Science Symposium (2022), One Health, One Future Conference (2023), and statewide at the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference (2023), and nationally at the Alaska Chapter of the Wildlife Society Annual Meeting (2023).

Through this project, Dempsey has discovered a passion for quantitative research, and she is grateful for the improvement in her statistical analysis and RStudio skills. She is working with her mentors on finishing a manuscript for the research project and plans to submit to a national journal.

Dempsey has had the privilege of being mentored by multiple excellent people.

“Sebastian Zavoico [UAF PhD student in Biology] has taught me a great deal about science and statistics, and I always enjoy our discussions. I appreciate Dr. Shawn Crimmins’ open door and his honest feedback,” she said. “Both Sebastian and Shawn have been great supporters by continually pointing me in the right direction while allowing me to make my own mistakes.”

"Sarah has a palpable passion for science and animals and is a voracious learner. She is a joy to mentor and I'm excited for all she has ahead of her," Zavoico said.

Dempsey also thanked Emily Sousa, her BLaST Research Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP), for being a great mentor and friend. 

“She was my RAMP when I started at BLaST and was very helpful [with] everything from figuring out travel logistics to recommending a good camping spot,” she said. “Dr. Ellen Chenoweth is my current RAMP, and I look forward to our weekly meetings. She has been incredible in planning for the future and finding opportunities.”

She also thanked Todd Brinkman, PhD, UAF faculty of Wildlife Biology, and BLaST staff members Jen Lu and Lori Gildehaus for their advice and continued support. 

Dempsey also provides peer-mentoring support through her position as president for the student chapter of the Wildlife Society at UAF. 

“I have valued being in a position where I can help other undergraduate students navigate college and in the world of research,” she said.

Dempsey presenting her research at the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Conference (WAISC) in Dillingham, Alaska

Dempsey presenting her research at the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Conference (WAISC) in Dillingham, Alaska. Photo credit: S. Wade, 2023.

For any questions about this or any BLaST Scientist of the Month article series, please contact Amy Topkok, BLaST Outreach Coordinator, at aktopkok@alaska.edu or 907-474-2403. More articles can be found on the BLaST Scientist of the Month website.

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The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.

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