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Molly Austin in a chemistry lab

Stellar student explores natural products chemistry

By Department of Chemistry

Molly Austin is a fourth year chemistry major and plans on going into a physician assistant’s program after graduation. She is originally from Iowa and attended high school in Lake Oswego before starting her chemistry major at Oregon State University. She felt she needed a college that was close enough to give her the opportunity to be near to family, but far enough away to allow her some greater independence. She had previously visited the campus and enjoyed how it felt like its own unified community.

Her first explorations into undergraduate research came about after she was approached by Neal Sleszynski, a senior instructor in the chemistry department. He had seen her skill in her coursework, driven by her abiding interest in chemistry as the underlying science behind many of the health fields she was interested in pursuing. She began doing research in winter term of her freshman year in Sandra Loesgen’s lab, which focused on natural products.

Sleszynski had emphasized the benefits of getting into a research project early and Austin considered it was worth a try. She knew it would give her a chance to get more hands-on with chemistry, something she was eager to do. Loesgen's lab focused on natural product discovery, which investigates metabolites from microorganisms or plants that may provide new medications and treatments for a variety of conditions. Austin's undergraduate research project specifically looked at developing new antibiotics from marine bacteria.

Unlike in her classes, where the focus was about absorbing information and understanding functions of equipment, Austin felt that research was considerably more hands-on. In a lab, you get the chance to set up your own experiments and examine your own data. This also requires a broader spectrum of interaction with other disciplines as well, mixing microbiology and genetics with organic chemistry in ways you can’t always get in the classroom. It also gave her a considerable amount of independence in determining the direction of her research projects.

That said, the biggest benefit she found going into undergraduate research was finding a research project that fit well with her interests. She wasn’t sure at first if it was for her, but taking that initial leap exposed her to the opportunity and let her discover that she was interested in and enjoyed what research could provide. She advises students coming after her to explore all the opportunities out there in research, both to find options that fit with your field of interest and to see if research is the right option for you.

When not busy in research, she enjoys time with her friends, volleyball, soccer, Frisbee and trying to make the time to explore the ceramics lab in the OSU Craft Center. Coming up to the end of her schooling, she suggests that incoming students take a little more time to explore some of the other classes that are available on campus. Sometimes you can get so focused on meeting the requirements of your major, you don’t always take time to branch out early on and find in your later terms, that you had more time free to explore than you may have thought.

Wrapping up our meeting, we finished with the most important question — what was Austin's go-to dessert? She let us know that her favorite food was chocolate and its optimal form was a good chocolate mousse with whipped cream on top. As always, we’re glad to get to know our undergrad researchers! We’d like to say thanks to Molly Austin for participating in in the interview and wish her the best in her future research projects!

Read more stories about: students, undergraduate research