Dr. Kristy vanMarle studies the mathematical abilities of infants and toddlers, seeking new insights into how the human brain develops, formats, and represents concepts of quantity. Basic cognitive quantifying abilities progress into ideas of number, time, and space, and are crucial to the everyday tasks that our adult brains perform. “Babies,” Dr. vanMarle tells SyndicateMizzou, “give you a window into what kind of initial, foundational core [mathematical] capacities are there, how they get elaborated, and what kinds of experiences are necessary for different capacities to come online.”
Ask Bruce Bartholow about his current research projects, and the associate professor of psychology at MU will likely direct your attention to the large whiteboard mounted on his office wall. Crowded with names of collaborators and topics ranging from alcohol and race bias to video games and aggression, this board reveals the breadth of Bartholow’s research.
Sandy Rikoon has a lot on his proverbial plate. His work is hard to pigeonhole, except to say that, in general, it’s grounded in concern over both people and the environment. Since his academic discipline in rural sociology lives “at the intersection of basic and applied research,” it is the pursuit of “seamless connections” between his research, teaching, and outreach activities that drives Rikoon’s work.
Ever since the third grade, when an assistant principal generously offered to teach him and two classmates French, John Miles Foley has been curious about how languages work. Starting with the early epiphany that language is always embedded in culture, Foley followed this line of thinking until it led to oral tradition, which the MU Professor of Classical Studies and English has now been researching for over three decades. It will surely be a lifelong journey, for the field far outstrips written literature in size, diversity, and social function. In fact, all the written literature we have, Foley is fond of saying, “is dwarfed by oral traditions.”
Marc Johnson began his research career studying a rabies-like virus in fish. “Working with fish viruses is really cool research,” he notes, but there are just not a lot of people doing it,” and that sense of isolation was eventually too much. In search of collaboration and community, Johnson switched from fish viruses to HIV. Since then, the assistant professor in MU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology has dedicated his research efforts to the study of these related humans viruses. He and his collaborators have made great progress in understanding how the HIV virus works in order to develop new therapeutics to combat the disease.
Being a religious studies professor means that Robert Baum is frequently asked about his own religion, to which he responds cheerfully, “I’m an Evangelical Africanist,” a remark that reveals his “deep commitment to make sure Africa is included whenever we talk about the world.” Running through all of Baum’s work—whether teaching, research, or outreach—is a value on religious literacy, the desire to promote a better understanding of the world’s major religions.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is the leading genetic cause of infantile death and the leading genetic killer of children under the age of two. As an associate professor in MU’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, Christian Lorson has dedicated his life’s research to the study of this devastating disease in hopes of someday developing therapies to replace the diseased gene with a ‘healthy” one.
Citing an analogy used by those in public health fields, Tina Bloom explains that health providers wait on the banks of the river to rescue people who have fallen in and are drowning. But Bloom wants to help more and help earlier. “At some point, you start to think about what’s happening upriver,” she says. As an assistant professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing, her research focuses on safety planning for women in abusive relationships; specifically, she is designing and testing a website that might help women find ways to lessen their danger.
Ever since Enos Inniss came to MU as an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering a short time ago, he has kept remarkably busy on various research projects involving water quality and safety.
Shubhra Gangopadhyay is the one of the few female faculty at MU’s Center for Micro/Nano Systems and Nanotechnology. She’s also the one in charge of developing the center. In the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, of which Gangopadhyay is the LaPierre Endowed Chair Professor, she is one of three women. “There is a shortage of female scientists and female professors, in general,” Gangopadhyay says. “And in engineering, it is really not good.”
Imagine waking to a bright, sunny day, but not really being able to see. Some people go their whole lives without witnessing that vivid red ball from their youth or the facial features of a loved one. Kristina Narfström, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Missouri, is doing research that promises to provide some light at the end of the tunnel.
In a back corner of the University of Missouri’s medical building, a few floors above the hospital and tucked away to the right, Habib Zaghouani watches a cellular war. He has been up there for seven years, with an army of graduate students and a colony of mice, trying to understand why our bodies attack us and how we can make them stop.
When S. David Mitchell leaves for work in the morning, he isn’t sure which hat to wear. Sometimes he is a law professor, and sometimes he is a sociologist. On most days he wears both hats at once—an interdisciplinary approach to research that seems to bode well. As an associate professor in MU’s School of Law, Mitchell’s teaching and research feed off each other, focusing on the intersection of society and the law. While his teaching covers topics ranging from torts and criminal justice administration—from “bail to jail”—the courses he gets most excited about involve his main area of research, including “Law and Society” and “Collateral Consequences of Sentencing.”
The idea for SyndicateMizzou, if I recall the story correctly, arose during a lunch conversation involving two Center for eResearch personnel, founding director John Miles Foley and Information Technology Manager Jamie Stephens, shortly after the center was born in April 2005. “Wouldn’t it be great,” remarked the latter, “if there were a website that could syndicate diverse content, be fully searchable, and bring MU’s innovation, accomplishment, and expertise to the rest of the world?” It was initially over soup and sandwiches that this conversation grew into a conception of SyndicateMizzou—a website created to document and promote research and creative activity at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In fact, the trajectory from idea to reality provides a worthy case study for imagining and executing an online project.
Alex Barker wears several different hats in MU’s Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Art and Archaeology. One of these hats involves his research and fieldwork on the European Bronze Age and the ancient American southeast. The other involves the directorship of MU’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. Standing at the crossroads of several disciplinary fields, most of Barker’s field research has in recent years dealt with a single broad question: how social complexity grows out of egalitarian societies. His fieldwork in North America and the Old World follows this transition over different periods and regions.
So-Yeon Yoon admits that while she has always liked computer games, even as a young child, she has also always enjoyed painting and drawing. Yoon describes her watercolor paintings and how for her the creative process is “very addictive”: “I like colors and creating something beautiful, and creating things on the computer actually gives the same kind of fulfillment.” She is attracted to three-dimensional (3-D) images and experimenting with different textures and colors. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that Yoon found herself drawn to the field of architecture and interior design—“a perfect match” in which her creative desires and her interest in computers could merge. Today, the assistant professor of Architectural Studies focuses her research and teaching on the areas of Human Environmental Psychology and Interior and Architectural Design. Her current research combines information technology with interior design and architecture, a composite field in which she applies technology, particularly virtual reality (VR), to interior design problems.
Bin Wu has been responding to real-world problems related to industrial systems design for twenty years. “When we talk about industrial system design,” he explains, “we are talking about how to put facilities, people, and information systems together so that this system can function for whatever purpose it was designed to serve,” whether to manufacture or to supply. Traditionally, says Wu, when designing an industrial system our main consideration was always productivity – how to produce or manufacture things more efficiently. Three years ago, however, the MU Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering received a wake-up call that changed the direction of his work.
The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for the visual extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. “I love thinking about what photography means to people. Having grown up with very few photographs in my household, I’ve always been drawn to them,” she admits. It was no surprise, therefore, that West stumbled upon her first book project while scrounging through the bargain bin of an antique store: “I came across all of these old Kodak ads from the turn of the century, and I thought they were amazing. The images were just breathtakingly beautiful. The captions were unlike those we see now in ads. They were much more elaborate, much more descriptive. They addressed the consumer in very interesting, clever ways, and I just fell in love with them.” And at that serendipitous moment, the idea for Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) was conceived.
Great celestial bodies populate the solar system. For an untrained eye staring at the heavens, the starlight spectacles and endless seas of blackness are nothing short of a miracle. Researchers, however, have developed mathematical equations that may help us understand such mysteries of the universe. From Isaac Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the scientific community has paved the way for a greater understanding of the great beyond.
M. Heather Carver is framed by her clown shadow—a black mannequin head wearing a pink camouflage hat and red clown’s nose—as she joyfully begins to describe her place at MU. “I come from a background of performing,” the Associate Professor of Theatre offers. “As a means of studying something, we perform it.” As a way of studying autobiography, for example, Carver performs autobiography.
Craig Kluever’s dream was born as he found himself awestruck in front of a grainy black-and-white television screen watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. He was in kindergarten. As he puts it, “that just made a big impact on me. Of course, the first thing I wanted to be was an astronaut.” Those early dreams of becoming an astronaut turned instead into a pursuit of the science behind the rockets. Today, the MU Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering works behind the scenes to solve the kind of problems involved in designing space travel—such as how to take off, how to reach a target, and, more importantly, how to return safely to Earth.
What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. “At the time of the slave trade, for example, most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves,” explains Sharon Welch, Professor of Religious Studies. As a social ethicist, Welch researches not just the way individuals make moral choices, but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.” To that effect, all of her projects coalesce around such issues of social morality.
There are multiple studies ongoing in the Developmental Cognition lab. In this video, Dr. vanMarle explains two of the most significant studies. The first is the “ratio cross-modal study,” which examines “how abstract” babies representations of quantities are and how well they can match ratios from auditory to visual stimuli. The second is the “rate learning study,” which examines babies’ sensitivity to rate information by matching auditory tones with visual dot arrays across many trials.
In a third study, the lab examines babies’ ability to develop expectations about the physical constrains of objects by observing sand poured into different containers. Dr. vanMarle also discusses a study that she hopes to do that uses the lab’s unique data collection over time to study how quantifying abilities change with age.
Dr. vanMarle’s work in the Developmental Cognition lab uses a technique of measuring babies’ “looking time” in order to gauge their visual attention. Researchers then examine changes in visual attention over multiple trials in order to analyze babies’ ability to discriminate between stimuli. Analyzing the data gathered from this process is the key to the lab’s insights into developmental cognition and beyond.
In addition to her work with Cytauxzoon, Dr. Cohn also researches “infectious, immune-mediated, and respiratory diseases.” This includes research on feline asthma and another tick-transmitted disease, Erhlichia, that affects both dogs and humans.
Dean O’Brien discusses his commitment to a strong research and publication record in addition to his duties as Dean of the College of Arts and Science.
Bartholow describes his recent research project, funded by the University of Missouri Research Board, which measures the effects of alcohol consumption on the expression of racial bias in laboratory tasks.
The project on alcohol and race bias led Bartholow to explore the question of why alcohol reduces the brain’s response to errors. He found that alcohol reduces negative affect, increasing the subjects’ positive feelings and thus causing them to care less about their classification errors.
Bartholow explains that his research extends beyond an exploration of alcohol and its effects on social behaviors: it tells us about how the brain works.
Bartholow explains how his research and teaching intersect. In a senior-level course on research methods, for example, he discusses the procedures used in his own lab. Students are “integral to everything” in his working group.
Bartholow describes two current projects involving higher-order cognitive control. One, funded by the National Science Foundation, explores how individual differences in executive functioning affect the expression of racial bias, while the other explores alcohol’s effects on higher-order cognitive processes.
Bartholow’s research has also explored how media such as video games affect aggressive behavior. One such project revealed the desensitizing effect of violent video games.
Folklorist, sociologist, and environmentalist, Sandy Rikoon runs the environmental sociology program in the Department of Rural Sociology, where he teaches graduate courses in environmental sociology, advises students, and does research in the area of environmental sociology.
Increasingly, says Rikoon, what drives his work is the pursuit of “a seamless connection” among the activities of research, teaching, and extension. While his research and teaching clearly inform each other, Rikoon explains that outreach has become a larger part of that mix.
Rikoon is often bewildered by the public’s response to scholarly work. On the one hand, he reflects, “sometimes our best groundbreaking research has zippo impact,” even when published in the most prestigious journals. On the other hand, sometimes those projects that are not the most academically complex have a huge real-world impact.
Only after encountering problems do many state and federal agencies call upon the expertise of social scientists for help, and Rikoon wishes they would ask for help while they set up a project—rather than afterward—to make sure the process fits with local norms.
Will states that his research dovetails perfectly with his teaching, allowing him to “give [students] a little window into the research field” and provide “more of the cutting-edge science than what they would get from the textbook.” He also gives undergraduate and graduate students alike the opportunity to conduct research in his lab, either through independent research projects or collaborative work.
Foley is grateful to have had fruitful collaboration with other scholars. Early in his career he carried on formative fieldwork with Barbara Kerewsky-Halpern and Joel Halpern (University of Massachusetts-Amherst), and studied with Albert Lord (Harvard University) at the Parry Collection of Oral Literature. Walter Ong (Saint Louis University) was a crucial mentor for 20 years. More recent collaborators have included Paolu Zedda, an ethnomusicology professor from Sardinia and a performer of oral poetry; Chao Gejin, Director of the Institute of Ethnic Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Lauri Harvilahti, Director of the Folklore Archive at the Finnish Literature Society; and Bertsozale Elkartea, a group of scholars committed to the study of Basque oral traditions.
Foley describes several other ongoing projects. One involves relocating the journal Oral Tradition from a conventional paper format to a new incarnation on the web in 2006. The decision to put the journal online stemmed from his commitment to forge a truly international conversation about this multidisciplinary field. In addition to the online journal, the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition has published three book series, comprising over 27 volumes. Foley is also involved in various collaborative research projects with scholars in Sardinia, Finland, China, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Basque Country.
The basic idea behind the study of oral traditions, explains John Miles Foley, is that we must approach them differently from how we approach written texts. Foley’s seminal book, How to Read an Oral Poem (2002), now translated into Chinese, offers a methodology for approaching oral tradition while paying attention to such crucial aspects as performance, audience, structure, and specialized language.
Johnson’s lab research is largely concentrated on the study of the HIV retrovirus. He says his work can be used on three levels. First, he hopes that by learning how the HIV virus works, he will be able to develop new drugs to treat and cure the disease. Second, he hopes that a thorough understanding of the virus will lead to the development of further gene therapy. Third, he hopes that an understanding of virus structure in general will lead to a better understanding of how human cells work. “Just about everything we know about modern molecular biology came from studying viruses,” Johnson says.
Johnson explains his love for science, his passion for microbiology, and how all that led him to the study of retroviruses. “Working with fish viruses is really cool research,” he notes, but there are just not a lot of people in this area, and that sense of isolation was eventually too much: “I missed having people with whom to interact, so I went to the absolute opposite—HIV.”
Baum has been studying Diola religion in Africa. Centered around belief in a supreme being, Emitai, literally “of the sky,”the Diola see Emitai as “the creator of all life and the bestower of rain.” Emitai elal is the Diola word for rain, “part of the essence of God that is seen as giving life during the rainy season and sustains the Diola.” Lesser spirits deal with specific kinds of problems, including family cults (hupila), as well as cults for women’s fertility, men’s initiation, blacksmithing, fishing, and hunting. Like other religions, the Diola have a concept of judgment after death. On the one hand, Baum explains, “those people who had life-enhancing lives (who helped other people, were good members of the community and good parents) become ancestors. They appear to their living descendants in dreams and visions and are seen as living right in the village. It is said that they are so close you can feel the warmth of their cooking fires at night.” On the other hand, those people who led a destructive life, “are condemned to the bush, forced to live outside the village.”
As soon as Baum begun teaching religious studies, he found people that one of the first questions people asked him was about his religion, to which he was ready with the cheerful response, “I’m an Evangelical Africanist.” “That comes from a deep commitment to make sure that Africa is included whenever we talk about the world,” he clarifies, and he loves to share this excitement about Africa with others. “I try to stretch people…to get students to see the world in as many different ways as possible, as a kind of intellectual limbering and flexibility exercise, so that they get a broader sense of what the possibilities of being human are [and] come away with more questions—about Africa, or indigenous religions, or about religions in general.”
Baum’s first book, Shrines of the Slave Trade: Diola Religion and Society in Precolonial Senegambia (1999), examines the history of Diola religion during the pre-colonial era, with particular attention to the impact of the Atlantic slave trade and family spirit cults. This work received a prize from the American Academy of Religion for the best first book in the history of religions.
With research under his belt, Lorson hopes that his team can start to establish clinical trials to test the therapeutic programs they have developed. “The next step is to launch it into animal models and prove efficacy, showing that you can turn around the SMA phenotype [gene expression].”
In addition to conducting research on SMA, Lorson also works with a non-profit organization called Fight SMA. “It’s a patient advocacy group…designed not only to raise awareness but also raise funds for research,” Lorson says, explaining the difference between federal or state funding and non-profit funding.
Lorson and his lab team are looking at SMA from two distinct yet related directions. First, they are trying to determine what causes SMA, and second, they want to develop gene therapy programs to replace the SMA-causing gene. This research is done in collaboration with several drug and biotech companies.
Bloom’s other research focuses on what causes women stress. “What was very striking to me while talking to women for my dissertation study,” she recalls, is that “almost universally, one of their major stressors was that they felt very isolated and alone.” She plans to work with women in Missouri to compare various stress-inducing factors and work toward alleviation of their problems.
Just as his students have benefited from their participation in the research process, so has Inniss: “I think the research also helps with the classroom experience—teaching—from the standpoint that there are real-world experiences that I can share."
Inniss’ students are regularly involved in his research projects, graduates and undergraduates alike. “They want to see what we’re doing outside of the classroom; they want to see the applications of the stuff that we’re actually teaching them,” he says.
In the United States, chemicals like chlorine are used to disinfect drinking water. While these chemicals are highly successful in killing waterborne diseases, some negative by-products are left behind in the water. “We are trying to find a balance between adding that disinfectant to our water and then having to deal with some of the other things that may happen as a result,” Inniss explains.
When a new water quality regulation is introduced, the makeup of the source water must be compared to the updated requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act in order to determine which substances need to be removed from the water and which need to be added.
Enos Inniss describes the process of taking his work from lab-based and pilot scale to real-world and full-scale, a process that allows him to isolate specific variables and raise pertinent questions. “The pilot system is where you start to ask those questions, get those design parameters, in many cases operating parameters, that help you with the operation of the system,” he explains.
As water regulations change, Inniss and his team are looking into ways to help personnel streamline required modifications to water plants. Meeting these regulations is of the utmost importance as far as public health is concerned.
Several groups of people are involved in Inniss’ water plant research: the regulatory agency, the treatment facility, the consultants, and MU. “There are several entities responsible for water quality, and for improvements to the water quality," he notes. “We work with them, and we feel like we’re a component in that whole structure.”
Nano-sized particles—clusters of molecules so small that 100,000,000 would fit across a single hair—can be built by attatching molecules together or by smashing apart bigger clusters. Shubhra Gangopadhyay’s lab does both. Her work will result in amazing new technologies, some of which will be used by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Narfström teaches mostly post-graduate students at MU, and she gives lectures around the world about her research. “It’s very rewarding to be a teacher and a researcher at the same time,” she says. When in the classroom, Narfström tries to pass along her excitement for research to her students, “because that is the only way to advance our knowledge.”
Watts’ most recent research resulted in a biography of Hugh Hefner—Mr Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream (2008). “Hefner has been a very significant historical figure in American popular culture.” At the front edge of the sexual revolution in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Hefner signified liberation—sexual and otherwise. “In that sense,” explains Watts, “in the 1980s and ‘90s, Hefner became a kind of foil for the Reagan administration; the Meese Commission on pornography went after him very strongly. He became the bogeyman in the age of Reagan.”
When thinking about research universities like MU, Watts is perplexed by people who are skeptical about the value of research at a teaching institution. Looking at his own department, he observes that “the research activity of our faculty, without question, invigorates the teaching mission of the department. It is my experience that the best teachers…are the best publishers.” Uncovering new knowledge in the field, he says, helps to “get the juices running and overflows the bounds of research alone,” enabling new perspectives in the classroom.
Jason Ellis leads the project that examines how a T cell decides whether to live or die after fighting an infection. These memory T cells, the ones that remain, keep the same illness from happening all over again, and vaccines are based on this same principle.
Zaghouani’s third project has had great success. Cara Haymaker, who is in charge of this research program, reports that they have identified a successful treatment for experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, a disease affecting mice that is very similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. So far, the research team has been able to completely reverse the disease in mice with two forms of treatment.
Christine Hoeman is the head of Zaghouani’s project researching infant immune systems, an effort that seeks to understand why a newborn is more likely to have allergic reactions and fevers. The project will hopefully result in better vaccines for babies.
As the recipient of $1.5 million in grants from the National Institute of Health, Zaghouani is working to develop a new immunology center at the University of Missouri-Columbia. When it is finished, experts from around the world will be able to meet and exchange ideas.
Zaghouani’s passion for immunology springs from a love of genetics and a fascination with the human immune system. He sees his work as more a hobby than a job, and has been able to share his knowledge of the subject with his many graduate students and lab technicians.
One of the debates occurring within the scholarly community concerns whether there is a disproportionate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws, that is, how such laws affect some demographic groups more than others, especially African-American communities. If we consider, for instance, the disproportionate number of African-American men who are currently incarcerated or under the control of the criminal justice system at some point in time (about one-third of the African-American male community), it becomes clear that such laws do have a disparate impact on certain groups.
From reading court cases to scouring such legal databases as Lexis-Nexis and WestLaw, Mitchell explains how a legal scholar goes about gathering research data. He also describes a teaching strategy employed in his classes to handle conflict-ridden legal subjects that require one to “take sides.”
Mitchell has been focusing his research on citizenship issues, felon disenfranchisement, and the retroactive application of ameliorative criminal laws. He also continues to write in the area of sociology and the law, and has revised earlier work on the African-American middle class for an edited volume that comments on Franklin Frazer’s Black Bourgeois and issues of class, identity, and race.
Mitchell recalls that when he began graduate school in sociology he was told scholars should engage in objective research, that they should not inject bias into their research. While agreeing with that principle, Mitchell finds that “the notion that any of our work is truly objective is ridiculous.” By the time one chooses a research topic, he suggests, there is already the bias of selecting an area about which one is passionate. Moreover, he disagrees with the idea that scholars should not be advocates of their own research.
After graduating from college and working as a paralegal for several years, Mitchell returned to his alma mater, Collegiate School, in Manhattan, New York, to serve as the student diversity coordinator and teach history. Wanting to make a bigger impact, he began law school thinking he would research the costs and benefits associated with affirmative action in predominantly white institutions. While at the University of Pennsylvania—working on a joint degree in both sociology and law—Mitchell began to examine felon disenfranchisement. “It popped up as an issue,” he recalls. “We’ve got this class of people who are citizens, but not full citizens, and that became my research topic from that point forward.”
From professors and lawyers to the judges themselves, legal scholarship is continually cited and challenged. As for whom he is addressing when publishing his findings, Mitchell explains that “I write for a much larger audience,” including the general public as well as felons and ex-felons. “You have got to speak to both the scholar and the lay person,” he contends. “We do an injustice to our work when it’s not accessible to those individuals.”
When a legislative body changes a law, mitigating the former penalty and improving someone’s condition, Mitchell argues, this change should be applied retroactively to all the cases still pending and to those individuals who have been convicted as well: “If the legislature changes a statute to reduce the penalty, in order to reflect the intent of their body and the will of the people, then the convicted and sentenced individual should get the benefit of that new penalty.”
Mitchell’s research involves an area of law popularly referred to as felon disenfranchisement. That is, Mitchell looks at felon exclusion laws, which “that exclude ex-felons from being full citizens.” Often thought to mean one thing—the right of ex-felons to vote—felon disenfranchisement involves much more, including limits on the rights of ex-felons to serve on a jury, to have housing, to get educational loans and, in some jurisdictions, even to maintain parental rights.
Behm-Morawitz discusses how her investigations into video games and the media may affect other research studies.
“I don’t know exactly why I got interested in biology,” recounts Cone. “I was interested in medicine, so I started college thinking that I would be a medical doctor… But pretty soon I realized that wasn’t the kind of work that I wanted to do. So I started leaning more towards research.” Because of her own experience, Cone advises students accordingly: “You can turn out okay even if you don’t know what you want to do right now. So you just have to look for opportunities and keep your eyes open. Listen to what people are telling you, and to what sounds cool, and believe that nothing is impossible. In science it is common to totally change fields, to do your Ph.D. in one thing and eventually end up working on some other topic. Getting a Ph.D., after all, is about learning to be a critical independent thinker.”
It is fascinating to hear about how these graduate students were drawn to their chosen area of study. While in some cases, their graduate program was a logical next step, for other students there is the sense that serendipity played a bigger role. In all cases, however, the sense of “something just clicking” becomes evident. Once they chose an area in which to specialize, that is, other aspects of their research and study just seem to fall into place.
William Donald Thomas, for example, recalls his college days: “I was an art major and then an English major, but I couldn’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life.…I looked at what I liked most, and that was biology. I wasn’t always interested in exactly what I’m doing now. I sort of fell into it. I like the simplicity in the system we are using; that is probably what attracted me to it.”
Similarly, Erica Racen admits that she did not begin in the basic sciences. As an undergraduate student, however, she did research in the area of cardio-thoracic surgery. “I was excited about science and research, and after graduating, I decided to get my Ph.D.” While doing rotations in different labs, she states: “When I tried out Karen Bennett’s laboratory, I found that it was the right fit for me. I liked the research, and as I have slowly learned more about it, it has kind of become my own.”
Brian Bostick recounts that he enjoyed science and medicine in high school, saying, “I always thought I would be a doctor.” While taking classes to prepare for medical school, he was exposed to the research aspect of academia. “I got really interested in how the stuff in the textbooks got there. I wanted to become one of the people who discovers those things.” After doing a rotation in Dongsheng Duan’s laboratory, says Bostick, “I think that’s when it all clicked. It was really exciting. Duan is really energetic and believes in the work he is doing. He is always thinking back to the actual patients. I think that is what really got me interested in research, but also in combining research with the clinical side.”
“Growing up, I was fascinated by nature and plants,” tells Amy Replogle. Intending to pursue plant biology in college, an internship at The Ohio State University in plant pathology triggered greater interest. Afterward, Replogle came to MU for an internship with Melissa Mitchum, who later became her advisor.
“I’ve always liked plants,” says Severin Stevenson about his own path to graduate school. Not only are plants relatively easy to study and hold multiple opportunities for studying, but they are also a good starting model. “Biochemistry is biochemistry,” suggests Stevenson. “No matter what system you are working on, you can apply it to other systems as well.”
Asked about how the experience of being an undergraduate student compares with that of being a graduate student, each of these students responds with parallel remarks about the added work, responsibility, and pressures, as well as the opportunity for autonomy in their research and the personal rewards gained from their work.
As an undergraduate student, for instance, Erica Racen recalls that while she went to classes and studied for exams, she felt she could “leave school at school.” Graduate school has been very different in that regard. Now finished with her coursework, she explains: “I don’t take classes anymore, so I am in the lab all day long. It’s fun!” Similarly, Amy Replogle recalls the biggest change she experienced in becoming a graduate student: “As an undergraduate, going to class was my job. When I came to MU for graduate school, this was reversed. While class is still important…my job has become my research project. So it is like having to go to school full time and having a full-time job. That balance was the hardest thing for me to get used to.”
Several individuals note that, as graduate students, they must be independent and self-motivated. Racen, for instance, describes her weekly routine: “I wake up every day and plan my own experiments. I decide what I need to get done, and I do the research. I have to think about it constantly to figure out what is the right experiment.” Brian Bostick agrees: “Graduate school is a lot more self-directed. When you are an undergraduate student, you take classes and tests. While you have some of that in graduate school, a lot of it involves learning on your own what you need to do your research, about the field, and where your research fits into it. At the same time, beyond the science, you are also working on your writing and communication skills to be able to present what you’ve learned.”
Andrew Cox likewise recalls having fewer responsibilities as an undergraduate student. Now finding and funding his own research, writing academic papers, and taking graduate-level classes, Cox finds himself being far busier than ever before. However, Cox appreciates the increased autonomy in his work: “I have an advisor, but I am essentially my own boss, and all the responsibilities that come with that keeps me busy.” Before coming to MU, Cox “worked at a desk in the corporate world.” He admits that there are times now when he wishes he could just go home and turn off his brain at 5:00 pm as before. “That doesn’t happen in graduate school,” says Cox, “because you are always struggling just to keep up with your work load. But I would never ever go back to what I was doing before. This is much more rewarding. I loved being an undergraduate student, but there are deeper rewards available to graduate students.”
While being a graduate student is a lot more work than being an undergraduate student, acknowledges Stevenson, “it is definitely worth it.” In fact, “it’s phenomenal; I’ve learned an insane amount in a short amount of time.”
All of these students agree that undergraduate and graduate school present two different learning styles and environments. While the former provides an introduction to the subject matter, “the questions and the problem-solving skills become more refined in graduate school,” suggests William Donald Thomas, whose advice for undergraduate students is as follows: “Regardless of your major, pay attention to those core classes that you take, for example, chemistry and general biology, because those are your foundations and will help you progress in graduate school.”
When asked, each individual reveals ideas about their post-graduation plans. When he graduates, for example, William Donald Thomas plans to continue the same type of research in molecular biology, in search of better treatments for breast cancer. Brian Bostick is a MD/Ph.D. student, earning a medical degree alongside a Ph.D. He explains: “My hope is to combine both clinical work as an MD, working with patients, but also to keep a research career going.” As such, Bostick intends to keep developing treatments for heart disease and “try to transfer those breakthroughs we are having in the laboratory to the bedside and help human patients.” Regarding his own ideal plans following graduation, Severin Stevenson says he would like to work in private industry for a while, but hopes that after some years of this he will return to teaching.
“There’s actually a lot you can do with a Ph.D.,” says Erica Racen. “Traditionally, people think that you go into academia and have your own lab. But I have a passion for teaching. Having come from a small liberal arts college, I would like to go back to that environment and teach.” Amy Replogle similarly reports a passion for teaching, saying, “I would love to become a professor at a small institution.”
While Andrew Cox is not certain what direction to take after graduation, he knows that he loves doing research. “I am less thrilled with the grant writing, the constant rejection, and the cut-throat nature of academia,” he responds. If he had to guess, Cox suspects that he will eventually teach: “I love interacting with students. There is really not much more thrilling than getting someone interested, involved, and engaged in research.”
In this segment, faculty members talk about how their research and creative activity contribute to better teaching, as well as the relationship between these two aspects of their work. Frequently, the two endeavors intersect, profitting both. Carmen Chicone remarks, “If you are actively involved in your subject, you’re bound to be a much better teacher.”
Whether their work seeks to counter domestic violence and ethnic genocide, identify cancer treatments, or employ literature and music to understand humanity, these MU faculty describe in their own words why this work is important to society.
When asked about why they were drawn to this area of research or creative activity, MU faculty provide interesting and compelling responses. In some cases, they continued in school because the drive to learn new things was so great, because family provided a sense of identity and career direction, or because of initial interest in a related field. In other cases, they stumbled upon the field quite by accident. Regardless of the reason, the passion they hold for their work is obvious.
The Center for the Studies in Oral Tradition, founded in 1986 by John Miles Foley, became the model for the Center for eResearch. The mission of the CeR is to bring together people from diverse fields doing innovative research on Internet or digital projects so that they might profit from the exchange of ideas.
Founder and director John Miles Foley explains the thinking behind the creation of SyndicateMizzou, with its mission to make research and creative activity occurring at MU accessible to the public on a 24/7/365 basis.
Almost all of Barker’s field research in Romania focuses on a single broad question: how does society go from the sovereign individual to the individual sovereign?
Barker is trying to understand the relationship between that process and the economics underlying those societies, seeking answers to questions about the economic basis of political change, and the development of economic mechanisms like taxation and charity relief, as well as why people would be willing to forsake their rights as autonomous individuals for more autocratic control by some kind of hierarchy. Barker surmises that individuals must have somehow perceived themselves as benefiting from the change.
Because of her lifelong interests, So-Yeon Yoon was drawn to the field of architecture and interior design. It was “a perfect match,” one in which her creative desires and her interest in computers could merge. Today, this assistant professor of Architectural Studies teaches focuses her research and teaching on the areas of Human Environmental Psychology and Interior and Architectural Design. Yoon’s current research combines information technology with interior design and architecture. That is, she applies technology, particularly virtual reality (VR), to interior design problems.
Following years principally involved in research, Wu now spends more time working with both students and the public on energy efficiency and the environment. As he puts it, “I feel very strongly that every one of us needs to do something and behave in responsible ways, individually or collectively, [to] do something about it.” As an educator, Wu gets the message out to his students, who he says are the future: , “It’s really a very fulfilling thing to do. I have been a professor for all of my professional life—doing research, writing books and other publications, and teaching. I can honestly say that what I’m doing now regarding energy efficiency is absolutely the most fulfilling.”
Bin Wu, Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, has been researching, teaching, and consulting within the field of industrial engineering for twenty years. “When we talk about industrial system design,” he explains, “we are talking about how to put facilities, people, and information systems together so that this system can function for whatever purpose it is designed to fulfill – for example, to manufacture or to supply. Traditionally, when we designed a system, the main efficiency considerations were related to productivity.” About three years ago, however, Wu received a wake-up call: his son’s birth created a sense of urgency to address environmental issues, and specifically energy efficiency. He realized then that when designing and improving systems, particularly industrial systems, “energy has got to be a very important consideration, if not the most important consideration.”
Reflecting on “the ways in which personal interests affect the professional and how personal motivation often guides professional motivation,” West recalls a story about how she chose her career. “When I was in college at Rutgers University, I thought I would go to law school…. I was very committed to that…. Then one day it was career day, and a lawyer came and talked about her work. She looked so beleaguered and so unimpassioned. And she was followed by an English professor, who totally enchanted me. And that was it! I already had the law school applications and thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ and I told my professors. This was at one of the moments when the job market was just awful, and they told me, ‘Don’t do it…. You’re not going to be able to get a job in English. You’re just going to waste your time. You’re just going to end up really sad and disappointed. Don’t do it.’ I just thought this is a part of who I am. I just had an instinct that it was going to be okay. So I did it and I never regretted it.” Because of this life-changing moment, West tells students curious about pursuing English in graduate school, “You have a really hard road in front of you in terms of the job market, and there is a good chance that you won’t find a job right away. But if this is who you are, if it is part of your being, if you can’t imagine yourself not doing it, then you really don’t have a choice, do you?”
With her first book, West’s motivation came from a personal source: “What could be more personal than a photograph, especially when my childhood contained so few of them?” “To be totally honest,” she says, “my second book was very hard for me, and I think one reason was because crime books are discussed so much. How to make an original intervention really worried me.” West reflects on her motivation for working on her third book: “I think it’s about the anticipation of watching all those Masterpiece Theatre episodes with my mom. I know that sounds corny, but it’s really true!”
Collaboration has been at the forefront of West’s research from the beginning. Although collaboration is said to take twice a long as working on something by yourself, West reports “I’ve always thought it was really sad in some ways to be an academic, working so much in isolation. Questions arise, such as ‘whom am I writing this for, how many people are going to read it, and what social good am I doing?’ For me collaboration helps alleviate some of those anxieties about the usefulness of the work. Whenever I get anxious, I can turn to my co-author and ask, ‘Why are we doing this project again, and why is it important?’ We can sort of borrow each other’s energies at different times. There is truly that spirit of doing it together—a joint venture.” In this spirit, West has collaborated on a number of conference papers and articles with graduate students and other colleagues because she finds that collaboration pushes her in different ways. For example, working with Pelizzon, with whom she wrote From Celluloid to Tabloid, challenged West to be a better writer. “She is a wonderful stylist,” says West of her poet collaborator, so that “whenever I write a sentence and revise it, I wonder if it is a sentence she would like, or how I could make it better. She also tells great narratives, knows how to tweak anecdotes really well, and knows how to make a critical book read like a narrative, which is a real gift.”
The teaching honors awarded to West bear witness to her pedagogical skills, including the Gold Chalk Award (1999, 2005), the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching (2004), and the English Graduate Student Association’s inaugural award for Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member (2005). Reflecting on her teaching, West states: “I really believe in interdisciplinary work—not just to present students with a reference every once in a while to an artistic or scientific movement, but to really see things from inside those disciplines. I think there are very rich connections to be made, and so I try to get students thinking in interdisciplinary ways.”
Chicone discusses the fundamental importance of mathematics for the natural world, observing that mathematics serves an array of practical purposes. He gives the example of one of his students, who freezes tissue for a project in cryobiology. The researchers working on this project are using mathematical models to make predictions about the behavior of living cells.
As a researcher at MU, Chicone spends a large portion of his time working with students. As an instructor involved with both graduate and undergraduate students, Chicone says that he learns a great deal from those he teaches.
Heather Carver describes herself as “a performance studies artist/scholar,” someone who investigates an issue through performance—“so we study autobiography, and we do autobiographical performance.” Carver teaches several kinds of creative writing, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, in adaptation and performance of literature for theatre and the screen. She also co-directs the Writing for Performance Program, which helps students adapt different kinds of writing for the stage or screen, including poetry, short stories, autobiography, or ethnography. And Carver serves as creator and artistic director of the Life and Literature Performance series to showcase original and adapted work by MU students for the stage.
As the Missouri Coordinator for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), Garcia tries to “keep the discussion on the table that Latino farmers (and other minority farmers) need to be more exposed to sustainable agriculture,” and he helps people better understand the need to reach out to those audiences. Garcia also serves on the steering committee for the National Immigrant Farming Initiative, a network of organizations across the country working with immigrant and refugee farmers (in Missouri that means Latino and Hmong workers).
Garcia has been conducting research on Latino farmers and their access to financial services, an extension project that became integrated with a research project.
Craig Kluever’s childhood dream of becoming an astronaut turned instead into the pursuit of the science behind the rockets. Today, the Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering seeks to solve the kind of problems involved in space missions—like how to take off, and most importantly, how to return safely to Earth. Kluever came to this area of research in graduate school when he had a fellowship with NASA, developing computer programs to help solve problems involved with mission designs that use electric propulsion (as opposed to chemical propulsion). At the time, Kluever recalls, electric propulsion was a brand new technology, and NASA needed predictive computer models to calculate missions, for example to map a trajectory from Earth to Mars using electric propulsion.
Humanities-related research involves studying the work of other scholars (e.g., philosophy and comparative religious ethics) and then synthesizing those ideas. For example, Welch has taken up the challenge to dominant ethics by Native American and Engaged Buddhist philosophers. Using certain techniques like interactive theatre in the classroom, she is applying qualitative measures to determine the effect of these pedagogical techniques. So far she has learned that these interactive theatre experiences can really change the way many students see the world around them.
In order to understand the complexities of these legal issues, Wells monitors state legislatures in terms of bills that have been enacted, examining the history of the legislative debates that ensued as the law was being passed. She obtains this information through governmental websites and through the Westlaw database, but she also looks at newspaper articles that describe the protests and even requests documents (such as complaints, depositions, and affidavits) from the attorneys involved to see how the demonstrations are described and what reasons are given for challenging a particular law.
Teaching a general course on Russian civilization has helped Langen’s research process by allowing him to connect literary studies to other aspects of Russian life.
Having a Ph.D. in psychology has aided Thorson in observing and understanding people and how they respond to messages, and her research program calls upon her to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” She spent a lot of her early years in advertising research, looking at people’s responses to ads and figuring out what kinds of visual images or auditory stimuli grabs and holds their attention.
Thorson’s early research involved the Psychological Research on Information and Media Effects Lab conducts advanced research on the physiological responses people have to mass media messages.
When Thorson came to MU in 1993, she was asked to build a research unit for graduate students and faculty in the School of Journalism. After revising the entire doctoral program, hiring new faculty members, and writing research proposals, Thorson has made it possible for MU’s School of Journalism to spend approximately $1.5 million per year on research.
Finding a way to transform MU’s School of Journalism into a think tank for the news and advertising industry has been the main research goal for Esther Thorson, who serves as Professor, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, and Director of Research for the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Her first major effort, in collaboration with Margaret Duffy, was to address the news and advertising crisis caused by the “digital revolution,” reacting to the reality that newspaper and television audiences have been plummeting as consumers and advertisers alike are shifting toward the Internet and other new media technologies.
Chandrasekhar’s research simply could not be accomplished without a good deal of collaboration with other people.
Devlin discussess how he goes about researching and gathering content for a new project.
Continuation of the research team introductions.
The TigerPlace project is a collaboration across multiple departments of the MU campus. Listen to different team members introduce themselves and explain their involvement in the project.