[Lede image: Petri dish with close up detailed bubbles.]

Since 2015, when Barnard was named a recipient of the prestigious Beckman Scholars Program award, the College has helped elevate the research of talented STEM students who are majoring in biology, chemistry, and neuroscience and behavior. Beckman Scholars, like many participants in Barnard’s research programs, are afforded opportunities to conduct hands-on research with the College’s esteemed faculty members. In the program’s first year, four Barnard students were selected. The current cohort includes eight students.

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2020-BeckmanScholars-hero
[L-R]: Rachel Nordlicht ’20, Alice Sardarian ’21, Shoshana Williams ’20

Funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the intensive three-year program provides financial support for two summers and one academic year of research, in addition to guidance and mentoring from a faculty member from the students’ respective science departments. To learn what some of the current scholars are up to and whether COVID-19 has changed these young scientists’ interests or specific areas of study, Rachel Nordlicht ’20 (Neuroscience & Behavior), Alice Sardarian ’21 (Physiological & Organismal Biology), and Shoshana Williams ’20 (Chemistry) spoke about their research and resiliency.

Rachel Nordlicht ’20: Neuroscience & Behavior

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Rachel Nordlicht ’20

Research focus:

Fear and anxiety in the brain and the difference in males and females.

Hometown/current town:

New Rochelle, N.Y. I am currently living at home due to the pandemic but plan to move back to NYC after.

Becoming a Beckman Scholar:

Since I stepped foot on Barnard’s campus, I was encouraged to pursue my inquisitive nature. In all my classes, science or not, I was taught to speak up and ask questions. As a Beckman Scholar, I utilized these questioning skills to delve deeper into my research and advance science.

Carrying out research:

Being a Beckman Scholar taught me how to apply my previous skills and knowledge to a laboratory setting. I learned how to ask the right research questions, learn from other scientists, and collaborate as a research team. I employ all these skills in my current research. In addition, I am expanding on the research I conducted through my Beckman project to compare the differences in male and female brains.

COVID-19 reflections:

As a young scientist, I feel empowered more than ever to pursue research. There is so much we do not know about COVID-19, and so much that we could know if we had more research on the virus. I hope my community of scientists are able to continue research to enable us to overcome this pandemic.

Alice Sardarian ’21: Physiological & Organismal Biology

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Alice Sardarian Barnard

Research focus: 

I’m a research assistant at the Glendinning neuroscience and behavior lab and have been studying the impact of sweet additives on adolescent alcohol consumption, using a rodent model, for the last three years. I have focused my research on the underlying oral sensory processing that permits excessive consumption of an otherwise aversive substance. 

Hometown/current town: 

Westport, Conn. 

Becoming a Beckman Scholar: 

I have been fortunate to work with my lab mentor and principal investigator, John I. Glendinning [Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Biological Sciences], since my first year at Barnard. I have taken several phenomenal science courses that have sparked my interest and prepared me for further research, one of which was Professor Glendinning’s class Statistics & Research Design. The course integrated biology, clinical research, and statistics in a way that prompted me, as a first-year, to seek an active role in the lab, which helped me to become a better researcher. Furthermore, Barnard’s Summer Research Institute (SRI) was instrumental in helping me to prepare, present, and communicate my findings to diverse audiences. It was a great opportunity to share my passion for STEM and to be one of Barnard’s proud female scientists. 

The Department of Biology has provided countless opportunities to explore my field of interest and delve into more independent investigation, through Guided Research & Seminar and hands-on courses like Lab in Physiology. The discipline, attention to detail, and penchant for inquiry that was fostered in the classroom translated directly into my research, expanded my skill set as a student researcher, and prepared me for the rigors and rewards of the Beckman Scholars program. 

Carrying out research: 

The program has offered resources and opportunities to enhance and diversify my research. Beyond the community of scientists and scholars at Barnard, I was able to join a national cohort of individuals who are making an impact in their respective fields. The annual symposium, a highlight of the Beckman program, was a unique opportunity to meet and to learn from scientists further along in their professions. It expanded my horizons and facilitated connections that helped me contextualize my future and how I hoped to incorporate research in my pursuit of a medical career. I am grateful for the Barnard faculty and administration and the Beckman program for supporting my love and appreciation for scientific inquiry and exploration. 

A pandemic shift: 

Like many of my peers, I had to suspend my research in the lab due to the pandemic, but I’ve remained engaged by staying up-to-date on the latest scientific literature, specifically on COVID-19. Furthermore, I am in the process of finalizing a paper for publication with my mentor, which details nearly three years of research. I am also looking forward to attending the Beckman annual symposium — virtually, of course.

COVID-19 reflections:

As a young scientist and emergency medical technician, I recognize the value of evidence-based medicine and public health measures. Policy informed by science is critical, now more than ever, and we are seeing vast improvements in our ability to combat COVID-19. Even more important is embracing the wisdom of a community of medical professionals and scientists who have committed decades of their lives to expanding our understanding of disease prevention. I am in awe of the widespread collaboration amongst international scientists, as humanity races towards a viable vaccine. I urge everyone, no matter your background or field of interest, to remain engaged in science, to read, and read some more, to seek the facts. If we embrace the careful investigation inherent to the scientific method, listen to the voices of scientists who are trying to steer us to a better future, and remain cohesive as a nation, we will be better equipped to deal with this and other pandemics that might ensue.  

Shoshana Williams ’20: Chemistry

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Shoshana Williams.Beckman scholar

Research focus:

My research focus lies at the intersection of chemistry and biology.

Hometown/current town:

My hometown is St. Louis, Mo. I’m currently in NYC, but I will be moving at the end of August to Palo Alto, Calif.

Becoming a Beckman Scholar:

Barnard has supported me in pursuing research experience since I first arrived on campus. I hadn’t done any research in high school, but I knew I wanted to explore it in college. In my first year, I enrolled in the Research Apprenticeship Seminar, where I learned how college research is conducted and had the opportunity to shadow students in Barnard labs. I started working in Columbia’s Austin Laboratory in the spring of my first year, and I spent my first summer of college participating in the Summer Research Institute (SRI). Throughout SRI, I received incredible mentorship and support from Rachel Narehood Austin [Diana T. and P. Roy Vagelos Professor of Chemistry; Chair, Department of Chemistry], as well as countless other faculty members and peers. I gained confidence in the lab, and I felt emboldened to pursue research and apply for the Beckman Scholars Program at Barnard. My early research experiences at Barnard inspired me to continue to work at the bench and to seek out more opportunities for research. 

Carrying out research:

As a current Beckman Scholar, the program has enabled me to carry out my current research by supporting it with a stipend and ensuring that I have strong mentorship from Professor Austin.

A pandemic shift:

My research focus has certainly shifted as a result of the pandemic. In a practical sense, my research moved into more computational and bioinformatic work when the lab was shut down. I found new and creative ways to explore my same research questions without being at the bench. The computational exploration turned out to be quite interesting and enriching for my research project. 

I also expect the pandemic to inform the type of research I pursue in graduate school. I will be starting a Ph.D. program in chemical biology this fall at Stanford University, and I am excited to seek out interdisciplinary research experiences. I am part of their ChEM-H program (chemistry, engineering, and medicine for human health), which supports a small cohort of students from several departments who perform research that combines disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, and engineering, in order to answer questions relevant to human health. The pandemic has solidified my interest in health-related research fields.

COVID-19 reflection:

The current pandemic has highlighted the importance of scientists in society. It reminds me that I aspire to be not only a great scientist but also an engaged member of my communities. Science is not a self-contained microcosm of the world. Researchers must speak up and agitate for policies that are evidence-based and designed to keep people safe. It’s not enough to do good work; we must communicate it and apply it.