Nicole Shoup Heads to University of Arizona for PhD in Immunobiology

McNair Scholar senior Nicole Shoup will graduate this month with a degree in Biology.

Welcome, Nicole!

Please bring us up to date on your plans for after your NMU graduation in April.

After graduation I plan on going home to Shelbyville, MI before moving to Tucson in August to start my PhD in Immunobiology at the University of Arizona! I will be catching up on some fun reading and stocking up on sunblock!

Nicole Shoup

Cast your mind back to when you just started in the McNair Scholars Program. What were your original goals?

When I first started in the program, I knew very little about what I wanted after graduation. Everyone always talks about going to college- how important it is to get a degree. Unfortunately, no one ever talks about what to do after college. Being a first generation college student, getting a bachelor’s seemed like a huge accomplishment…and it is! But there were no expectations or advice about what to do afterwards.

When I first started I knew that I loved biology and I loved learning, but didn’t realize my education could feasibly continue after NMU.

McNair helped me narrow my interests and prepare for a higher education I didn’t realize was possible

Let’s talk about your experience in the McNair Scholars Program.  First of all, tell us about your research and your experience working with your mentor.

I have been working in Dr. Sharp’s microbiology lab for about 2 years now. We primarily study the rapid identification of bacteria.

Identifying bacteria from an unknown sample can be a lengthy process.

Infectious bacteria replicate quickly inside the human body and timely identification of the pathogen is essential for proper treatment.

Traditional methods typically require growth of bacterial cells on agar plates to visualize colonies. This can take anywhere from 24 hours to several days depending on the species of bacteria, which can delay treatment. Immunomagnetic beads can be used to directly capture bacterial cells, eliminating the necessity for lengthy incubations.  Following magnetic capture the bacteria can be isolated and identified using laser light scattering. The combination of magnetic capture and laser light scattering can lead to identification of microbes in a sample in less than 8 hours.

Did you travel to present your research findings?

I went to the American Society of Microbiology Annual conference in New Orleans last year. I was co-author on a poster that was presented at one of the sessions. This was an excellent learning experience! The conference was huge, about 25,000 people were there. It was great to see how many different topics are being explored in my field and helped me network with faculty in graduate programs I was interested in.

Did you travel to visit graduate school programs?  Were those trips of value to you as you refined your personal goals?

I traveled to Oregon State University, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University before applying to grad schools. I really suggest visiting potential schools if possible.  I learned that some of the schools I loved on paper were definitely not the right schools for me once I visited. I also learned that faculty members I had singled out prior to visiting were not the types of mentors I was looking for and vice versa.

Talk about your graduate school applications.  What advice would you give to those coming up behind you?  Any words to the wise?  If you are comfortable sharing, tell as much as you like about where you applied and how you made your final decision to attend the U. of Arizona.

START EARLY! I know that is what everyone says…and all of us procrastinators cringe. But the application process is long. You want all of your essays to show who you really are, why this is the right path for you, and what you are capable of. Choosing the right words takes time! This is true for recommenders as well. You want them to provide accurate portrayals of you abilities and character, and they can’t do this in a crunch.

This being said, I think the best words of advice I can give is to really do your research on potential programs. You can be a straight-A student with years of experience but if the program isn’t the right “fit” for you, success is unlikely. Don’t apply to programs that seem easy to get into or have the biggest stipend. Apply to the programs you feel a connection with. It’s like dating.

And like dating, chances are you will be rejected somewhere down the road. It is heartbreaking and discouraging and just awful.  My advice:

Watch The Notebook and cry it all out (preferably with a glass of wine) then ask yourself why. Was the school a good fit? Was your GRE low?

Were there professors there that shared your research interest? Change the things you can, accept the things you can’t, and use the experience to become a better applicant.

I applied to 5 PhD programs, interviewed at 2, and received direct admission to a master’s degree program at a third. The University of Arizona was the first school to contact me as well as my first interview. The faculty and staff I met with were so considerate, caring, and personable. At the interview I fell in love with the campus and facilities. Additionally, Tucson felt like the perfect sized city for me (with lots of amazing foodie spots!) It was a very easy decision, especially when I received a generous stipend offer to boot.

Would you recommend the McNair Scholars Program to others?  Why or why not?  Any further advice about how to get the most out of the program?

I would absolutely recommend the McNair Scholars Program! The program has given me so many opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I have become a better student during my time in McNair, but more than that, a more confident individual. I learned how to do research, of course, but I also learned how to travel on my own, how to talk to large groups of people, how to cope with stress.

Take every opportunity McNair throws at you. Visit grad schools. Present at conferences. Research! It might seem like a lot of work at the time, but it all pays off in the end.

Nicole Shoup - Photo