In addition to getting hands-on experience, students who conduct research at Wheaton learn to think critically, problem solve, and work in a team. Such sills are valued by employers and professional / graduate schools. Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Nathaniel Thom talks about the benefits of doing research at Wheaton and how it prepares students for life after college.
Research with the “Grey Matters Group”
Each summer Wheaton students have opportunities to work with our exceptional faculty on research projects. It’s a chance to take what they’re learning in the class and apply it to a real-world research setting. This summer Dr. Nate Thom’s team of undergraduate students, known as the “Grey Matters Group,” are conducting brain research on individuals that experience high-stress situations. Being able to see a research process through beyond a single semester enables students to pick up intangible skills that employers and graduate schools are looking for.
Prior to teaching in the biology department at Wheaton, Dr. Thom did his post-doctorate work in San Diego with U.S. Navy Seals. He hypothesized that individuals who regularly work under extreme stress and high pressure situations have neurological differences from the average person. Dr. Thom sees a similarity between those who work in the military service and missionaries: both have a sense of calling, are constantly moving, and oftentimes experience different cultures. Eventually, Dr. Thom would like to see this research shed light on neurological differences that would help equip missionaries before they go into the field as well as help them adjust when they return.
Benefits of Research at Wheaton
Amazing Lab Equipment
“One of the things about Wheaton College and the sciences here that you’re not going to find anywhere else,” says Dr. Thom, “is access to state of the art equipment. We have some of the same technologies that you would find at a large research institution, which really is incredible. The fact that within a semester students can be collecting data . . . analyzing that data and then helping publish that data, you just won’t find that at another small school.”
Integration of Faith and Science
Wheaton’s emphasis on the integration of faith and learning extends directly into the sciences. “Wheaton does a really good job of challenging the opposition between science and Christianity and showing that your Christianity influences the way you do science, and science influences your Christianity,” said researcher Amy Early ’16.
This summer, Dr. Thom’s team of students are setting up the infrastructure for this research project and analyzing data. Along the way, they’re also gaining valuable real-life experience, skills, and confidence for the next steps of their journey.