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Coming to Her Senses
Most college students wouldn’t think that collecting somebody’s spit in a tube could ever be anything but just gross. But for Emily Evans ’15, it was part of a summer internship that has led to a job offer at the world’s only independent research center that studies the chemistry and genetics of our senses of taste and smell.
Evans, a chemistry major and math minor, worked at the Monell Center in Philadelphia with Danielle Reed, a principle investigator who studies the genetics of taste and the relationship between genotype and phenotype in humans and rodents. She applied for the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program—which offers paid summer internships to undergraduates—after James Lipchock, assistant chemistry professor, suggested it to her.
“I was grateful for the opportunity because I didn’t want to graduate without working in a lab outside of the classroom,” says Evans. She didn’t think she would like the work because she wasn’t crazy about classroom labs, but Anne Marteel-Parrish, Washington College’s Department of Chemistry chair, suggested she try it. The experience of working at Monell, Evans says, completely changed her mind about a potential career.
“It’s definitely something that I want to do because it is so different. Dr. Reed’s lab in particular was a real team environment, and that was really cool,” Evans says. “I learned so much and I feel like the hands-on experience was so beneficial. I did a lot that I didn’t think I would have done as a chemistry major, because it was a lot of biochemistry.”
While at Monell for 12 weeks, Evans worked on a variety of projects that included “lots” of DNA extractions, as well as dissecting mice, “trying to locate through cross-breeding a certain gene on a chromosome that codes for a certain fat deposit.” Her most in-depth work, though, was for one of Reed’s ongoing studies into twins’ sense of taste, and what in their DNA makes it possible for one twin to taste things differently from another. Evans and other students spent weeks preparing materials for research conducted at a huge annual gathering of twins in Twinsburg, Ohio.
“Something like 20,000 twins come to this convention,” Evans says. “Twins come from all over the country. I felt a little out of place.” Her job was to collect the spit of the twins who were part of the experiment—800 tubes’ worth. “It was a really cool experience to be part of the data collection and actually meet the participants. A lot of them come back year after year to be genotyped again.”
After Evans’ internship, Monell offered her a job. She’ll return there during winter break to do more research that she’s now bringing into her senior thesis, and then after graduation she’ll go to work fulltime. It’s not what she thought she’d be doing, but that’s a refrain that echoes through much of her experience at Washington College. After starting at the College of Charleston, Evans transferred to WAC, which had been her second choice. She never looked back.
“I love it. I have had the best time here. There are so many opportunities for such a small place.” She started the club tennis team, “and I never thought I’d be the leader of a team like that, but it’s just easy to do here. Then I actually joined the varsity tennis team; I didn’t think I’d play collegiate tennis so that’s been a great opportunity.”
She led the College’s Relay for Life charge last year and helped raised over $50,000, “and I don’t think I would have gotten into that at a bigger school either. It’s just really easy to get involved here.” Evans also helped start Caring For Kids and was the group’s treasurer until this year. A member of Omicron Kappa Delta, the national leadership honors society, and Gamma Sigma Epsilon, the national chemistry honors society, she also tutors fellow students in math, as well as organic and general chemistry.
“I like to help people, really. I like being involved,” Evans says. “I think that’s a whole part of coming here. It’s a small campus and a small town, but if you get involved and make the most of everything, then it’s a really great experience.”