From biochemistry to graduate research at Stanford

Emily Harcourt ’09, Graduate Student

Major: Biochemistry

Research Group: Hamilton Lab and Megan Nuñez Lab

Summer Research Internship: Hamilton Lab

Graduate Program: Department of Chemistry, Stanford University

As a member of Professor Eric Kool's research group at Stanford University, I have had several different projects involving various aspects of nucleic acids chemistry. Currently, I am working on the development of a treatment to improve the recovery of RNA from formalin-preserved samples, something that has previously been a challenging and unreliable task.

We are trying to approach this problem through a chemical understanding of how formaldehyde reacts with RNA, and how we might promote the reverse reaction while leaving the RNA itself intact.

The background that I obtained with my biochemistry major and chemistry research at Mount Holyoke has enabled my success at Stanford. Having already done research at Mount Holyoke, I was prepared to read scientific literature, think critically, and work independently.

Being a mentor in (Peer-Led Undergraduate Mentoring System (PLUMS) also helped me tremendously to be more effective and confident as a teaching assistant for undergraduate students. In addition, the things that I learned in organic chemistry and biochemistry classes are relevant to the work I do now - I often pull out my biochemistry notes as a starting point when I'm trying to understand the chemistry of some biological process. In my current research, I use a mixture of chemical and biochemical techniques, from setting up reactions to running gels to isolate RNA. My experience as a biochemistry major who worked in a chemistry lab at Mount Holyoke has enabled me to work comfortably with different techniques and across disciplines.