It’s a common perception that life in a university research lab is a lonely existence.
That wasn’t Skylar Fuller’s experience at Oregon State University. Not by a long shot.
“We are so close. We were like a family,” said Fuller, who earned a master’s degree in molecular and cellular biology this past spring. “We play music. We chat while we’re doing our experiments. It was such a fun, light-hearted environment. We are never alone in a dark hole.”
Fuller excelled at research as an undergraduate in the lab led by Jeff Chang, associate professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. She was the first student to enroll – and graduate – in the Accelerated Master’s Platform (AMP) for the Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program.
AMP is a new program that allows undergraduate students to take graduate level courses and apply them to both their undergraduate and graduate degrees. After Fuller graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she took just one year to finish her master’s.
“Skylar accomplished an amazing amount in a couple of years,” Chang said. “Not only did she get both degrees, but she was the lead author on one published paper, a co-first author on a manuscript that is currently under revision, and completed a thesis. Skylar was directly mentored by Elizabeth Savory, a postdoctoral associate in my lab. She was also a teaching assistant, generously supported by our department, for a class series that has about 1,000 students.”
In the AMP program, Fuller took one academic course each term. She was in the lab the rest of the time, including evenings and weekends.
“It was very challenging, but I was used to it,” she said. “I worked 20 hours a week all through undergrad so I already had the time management to deal with it.”
Even though Fuller was valedictorian of her 2012 graduating class at Scappoose High School, she didn’t take any Advanced Placement science courses. In fact, she didn’t take any AP courses. Most students begin taking the rigorous courses in their junior year; Fuller spent the year studying abroad in Chile.
Fuller took Chang’s general biology course in the winter term of her freshman year. She said she approached him after class and said she was interested in doing research.
“I wanted to learn how to be a scientist,” she said. “You can’t learn that in a class.”
Fuller flourished as an undergraduate and graduate researcher. She credits Chang and Savory for supporting her in various ways, such as research funding opportunities, poster sessions, etc.
After graduation, Fuller planned to take some time off and then pursue a career as a research assistant or instructor at a community college, then after a couple years apply to medical school.
This fall, she landed a position as a full-time researcher and lab manager.
In Chang’s lab, of course.
“We are ecstatic to have her back,” Chang said.
~ Chris Branam