Our third mentor spotlight features Professor Heidi Elmendorf, who is an associate professor in the Department of Biology and the co-director of the Biology of Global Health Major.
How did you become involved in research?
I first got involved in research as an undergraduate myself. A senior thesis is a requirement for graduation at Princeton University. So, as a Biology major, I began research in an animal behavior lab as a junior, wrote two research papers that year, and then spent all senior year researching/writing my senior thesis. After graduation, I shifted focus and went to work first as a technician and then as a graduate student in a laboratory studying the biochemical and cellular biology of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.
Why do you think that undergraduate research is valuable, both for the student conducting the research and to the institution as a whole?
Undergraduate research is a chance for students to really take ownership of their education. Traditional courses are typically about the professor’s vision, and students often turn to their co-curricular activities to pursue their own vision. Research offers students the opportunity to flip that dynamic and own their intellectual path. For the university, undergraduate research sits at the intersection of our two most central missions: research to expand our understanding of our world and education to prepare the next generation to lead.
What is your favorite part about the research process?
The chance to work one-on-one with students toward a common goal. Research allows so much depth of thought and emotional engagement. It’s really exciting to share that with a student new to it all…
What is the most challenging part of the research process?
The challenging part is the limited time available. So much doesn’t go as planned in research; there are so many starts and stumbles. It’s hard to bring a research project to fruition with so much else going on in such limited time.
Describe your current research in one sentence.
My laboratory is interested in better understanding the mechanisms of pathogenesis of the intestinal pathogen Giardia lamblia.
What is your advice for undergraduates who are interested in pursuing research at Georgetown?
The most important thing is to find your passion. What is it that excites you? I’d argue that students should think big here; the passion doesn’t need to fit in traditional academic boxes. Maybe your passion seeks to pull together two different disciplines (your major and a minor?). Maybe your passion lies at the fruitful intersection of your curricular and your co-curricular experiences. Research is a chance for you to experience the excitement (and frustrations!) of forging a path all your own.