Local Fulbright Scholar Studies in Finland

Addison Kemp

Thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, Addison Kemp did not have to worry about the tough job market or the scarcity of student loans when she graduated in May from Mount Holyoke College. Ms. Kemp, a biology major, was one of 7,500 scholars this year to be awarded the prestigious fellowship, which is giving her the chance to study the evolution and development of teeth at the Institute for Biotechnology, which is a part of the University of Helsinki in Finland.

The Fulbright Scholarship program was established in 1946 by Sen. J. William Fulbright, a liberal Democrat from Arkansas. Since its inception, there have been nearly 300,000 Fulbright Scholars. With a mission of increasing mutual understanding between citizens of the United States and other countries, the program has become the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.

For Ms. Kemp, the Fulbright program, which pays a stipend to cover her living and travel expenses for the current academic year, was a logical choice. Although graduate school is on the horizon, she wasn’t ready to enroll immediately after her college graduation. “I hadn’t done any study abroad before this year, and that was a major factor in my decision to apply (for the Fulbright),” she said. “My interests were very far-flung – from the evolutionary transition from unicellular to multicellular life to vertebrate biomechanics to evolutionary development – and I simply needed more time to figure out just what I wanted to be studying for the next six years” (roughly the time it takes to get a doctorate in biology). “While thinking of what to do with this time between,” she said, “ I decided to apply for a Fulbright. I wasn’t immediately sure which program to apply to. I was torn between research and teaching English in either Bulgaria or Turkey. My past teaching experiences had caused a strong pull in the latter direction.”

Ms. Kemp’s adviser, Stan Rachootin, helped her figure out where to go. “He mentioned that I should look into applying to do research in Finland with (Jukka) Jernvall’s group” (the Developmental Biology research group, which is within the Institute for Biotechnology), she said. “I contacted Jukka to see if he would be interested in having a Fulbright student for a year, he said yes, and I started the application process. “I chose to apply for this grant because evolutionary developmental biology is something that has absolutely fascinated me for a few years, but I have never been able to actually get any hands on experience, I just loved the theory. I’ve mostly done work in evolution, organismal biology, comparative anatomy and biomechanics.” While she is in Helsinki, Ms. Kemp is living in graduate student housing and taking two courses, stem cells and organogenesis and introduction to the Finnish language. She is also working in the lab, where she will be participating in a number of research projects, before designing her own master’s level project, which may deal with tooth wear in a mutant strain of mice.

She said a wide variety of research projects are going on. Some people are looking at tooth complexity using a 3-D laser scanner. Their work allows comparisons between groups such as modern animals and their fossil ancestors, or between general herbivores and bamboo eaters. “There are also people studying how genetic mutations impact the developmental process and final shape of the teeth. Teeth are an especially interesting organ to do this sort of work on because it is the only hard tissue in the body that cannot be remodeled or “reshaped” after development. Bone is constantly being remodeled throughout an animal’s entire life.”
Once this year is completed, Ms. Kemp plans to head to graduate school to study either organismal bio/biomechanics or evolutionary developmental biology, although the University of Helsinki’s master’s program in biotechnology has also caught her eye.