November 03, 2017 | Hannah Ebeling

Calvin student Sarah David presenting her research at the Midwest Enzyme Conference
Sarah David presents her research at the Midwest Enzyme Conference in Chicago.

On October 14, 2017, five Calvin students presented their research at the Midwest Enzyme Chemistry Conference at Loyola University Chicago. “It was honestly life-changing,” said Kalina Reese, a sophomore biochemistry major and previous summer research student. “The experience made me grateful for my education and discipleship at Calvin College.”

The Midwest Enzyme Conference brings together researchers from over a dozen states across the Midwest to present their work. The day of the conference consisted of three sessions, where Calvin students had the opportunity to hear from a select group of experienced graduate students, post-doctorates and faculty. The conference aimed to provide a forum to learn more about enzymes and facilitate opportunities for ground-breaking scientific discourse. 

Invaluable undergrad experience 

The conference featured primarily graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and Calvin students were part of a small group of undergraduate students. “I’m only a sophomore, so the fact that I get to do undergraduate research is huge,” said Reese. “Those opportunities are something really cool about Calvin.” 

“Our mentors certainly wanted to challenge us as we were the only undergraduates among graduate students and post-docs,” said Reese. We sat in seminars among them and presented side-by-side. This was challenging, but it was a wonderful learning opportunity.”

Forum for discourse and growth 

Calvin students each presented a poster based on the research they had done during the summer. “Presenting at the Midwest Enzyme Conference was really good for me,” said Sarah David, senior biochemistry major. “My confidence really increased as a result of it.” 

During the poster session, David said it was not uncommon for other students to ask questions about her work and make suggestions. “Some of them had some really interesting questions,” she said. “Many of them would tie the ideas and concepts from several different posters together.” 

David said it was nice to have people talking about her work and asking questions. “It didn’t for one second make me think that my work was any less valid but actually showed me that people were understanding and appreciating my research.” 

Safe space to learn 

“During others' presentations, I realized that Calvin research was different,” said Reese. “Not only did our research projects serve a major need, but they were intended to steward our knowledge to those who really needed it.” 

Both Reese and David noted that the conference seemed very competitive and combative at points, unlike the environment they are used to at Calvin. “It is almost relaxing to be in a lab environment that embraces learning and the ability to make mistakes,” said Reese. 

Opportunity for exploration 

“Of all the research presented at the conference, very little of it provided concrete answers to questions,” said David. “The research really just flung the doors wide open to a whole new set of possibilities.” 

David said she greatly benefited from the research and presentation experience. “I had some experience taking bio-chem classes and working in a bio-chem lab, but now I’ve found a much greater appreciation for the scope of research. Before I just thought of research as something you do and then you’re done, but there’s always ways to expand it and improve it.” 

“The main thing I took away from the conference was the amazing nature of science: you ask one question that leads to more and more questions,” said David. “It’s encouraging to know there is always something you can learn more about.”   

Recent stories