Gaining experience in the research lab and building leadership skills at Mount Holyoke
“The Mount Holyoke professors and students created an encouraging environment where anyone can ask questions without thinking twice. My classes have taught me to be a leader.”
Bineeta Debnath, a biochemistry major, learned many lessons at Mount Holyoke College, but the biggest was about empowerment.
“When I was in my high school, I didn’t feel as comfortable asking questions,” she said. “The Mount Holyoke professors and students created an encouraging environment where anyone can ask questions without thinking twice. My classes have taught me to be a leader.”
Debnath’s introduction to Mount Holyoke came courtesy of her brother, who took a few courses at the College while attending Hampshire College, a member of the Five College Consortium. He believed Mount Holyoke would be a right fit for her and suggested she apply. Debnath took her brother’s advice and applied early decision to the College. She was amazed at the amount of financial aid Mount Holyoke offered.
When first arriving on campus, Debnath intended to study biology but became interested in chemistry after taking an introductory chemistry class. After speaking with Amy Camp, her academic advisor, she decided to become a biochemistry major.
“My honors thesis is a very big commitment for me and will take me to greater heights after I graduate from Mount Holyoke.”
A large component of being a biochem major is spending time in a lab. Prior to coming to Mount Holyoke, Debnath hadn’t completed much lab work, but professor Craig Woodard’s zeal for teaching and research helped in the transition. Debnath credits her research advisor, Craig Woodard, and other biochem professors with helping her expand her capabilities and research goals.
“Craig is a very enthusiastic professor. He has been teaching at Mount Holyoke for 20 years now,” she said. “I was very surprised to see that he dedicates time to mentoring each individual student in his lab and still has that level of enthusiasm after teaching for so long.”
As Debnath’s confidence grew, so did her lab experience. During her second year, she participated in a Lynk-funded chemical biology internship at UMass Amherst, where she was researching a fungus that affects crop growth and learning how biochemical diversity research can be translated into useful agriculture or biotechnological applications.
Last summer Debnath completed an internship at Mahidol University in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand, where she researched spliceosomes, which are large RNA-protein complexes used in mRNA splicing. The training she received from her UMass internship and in the labs at the College enabled her to feel well prepared.
“I wanted to gain experience from a laboratory in Asia, and I was able to work independently thanks to Craig and my previous internship at UMass,” she said. “I did not need much supervision because I already knew the techniques and protocols of working in a lab.”
Debnath’s internship in Thailand gave her valuable lab experience. This allowed her to dedicate her senior year to writing her honors thesis based on research conducted in Woodard’s lab, which studies gene expression and animal development by steroid hormones using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model. “My honors thesis is a very big commitment for me and will take me to greater heights after I graduate from Mount Holyoke,” she said.
Debnath has also displayed her leadership skills at Mount Holyoke, having spent four consecutive semesters as a teacher’s assistant and grader for various calculus classes. As an international student from Bangladesh, she has been able to share her culture by teaching Bangla, her native language, for three semesters through a program made available through the Five Colleges Center for World Languages.
After graduation Debnath plans to work as a research assistant for a year abroad, but her ultimate goal is to become a professor. “I really have a dream of doing a Ph.D. in the United States,” she said. “After my Ph.D., I’d like to embark on the journey to get my postdoc and eventually become a professor with my own research lab.”