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Posted March 11, 2015 by
Tags: The Liberal Arts My Wheaton

Nerding Out Over Flow-Mediated Dilation and Meta-analysis

Upon coming to Wheaton, scientific research was not my idea of an exciting extracurricular. For me, science was a means to an end. I needed certain classes for graduate school. But I wasn’t that into the science itself. 
As I entered my second year at Wheaton, this began to change. I was studying human anatomy, and could frequently be found telling anyone who would listen to me about the incredible things going on inside their bodies. The human body was like a divinely directed magic show with invisible, unbelievable complexities that somehow worked in tandem to allow me to do activities as simple as lifting my arm. Second semester of my sophomore year, I took Physiology with Dr. Hunt. On the first day of class, he assigned each student a long-term group research project. He approached my group with an idea, spouting off foreign sounding words like “flow-mediated dilation,” “endothelial cells,” and “meta-analysis.” 

I remember feeling even more lost after our first meeting with Dr. Thom, our other collaborating professor. But we pressed onward with the research, investigating the potential negative impact of eating carbohydrate-rich meals on vascular health because of the high rates of cardiovascular disease in America.
As summer approached, I was asked to stay on campus and continue researching, an opportunity provided by donations made to the Wheaton Research and Residence Program, or “Wheaton in the Lab,” as we affectionately called it. Since Dr. Thom was the professor guiding the process, I became his research assistant. And our meta-analysis became my project. 
Although I spent a significant amount of my summer reading articles—due to the nature of a meta-analysis, which is essentially a fancy literature review but with a quantitative representation of the dependent variable—it was by far my favorite part of the research process. The more I read about Flow-Mediated Dilation (FMD), the more I understood it, and the more interesting it became. Dr. Thom gave me a lot of independence, while offering enough guidance and mentorship that I did not feel abandoned. Approximately once a week, we would have longer meetings to discuss articles I had been reading and our next steps, with brief interjections about Dr. Thom’s kids. Occasionally, we would go running down the hall to Dr. Hunt’s office with some urgent question about endothelial cells or FMD. As the summer drew to a close, we had started the initial stages of data analysis, a process that has continued throughout this year. This March, I have the incredible opportunity to present our research at the Experimental Biology Conference, before we complete our analyses.

Over 400 hours of research later, all of those big, science-y words from that first meeting intimately describe the latter part of my time at Wheaton, along with the project that I have poured my time and energy into. Now that I voluntarily do research in my spare time, I suppose it is finally time to proudly take my place among the ranks of the “science nerds.”

Amy Early is a junior studying French and pre-health. Learn more about her on her author bio page.