UNDERGRAD GENETICS RESEARCH

By Chanapa Tantibanchachai 

A New Jersey native, Tyler Shimko knew the U was the right fit for him for a number of reasons: the scenery, the size and the abundance of undergraduate research opportunities available. After an undergraduate career packed full of research experience in multiple labs, Shimko, whom  received an honors degree in biology with a minor in chemistry this past May, will head to Stanford University to pursue a doctorate in genetics.

With the help of the Office of Undergraduate Research, Shimko sought research opportunities as soon Tyleras he started at the U.

“Graduate school has always been my ultimate goal and coming in to college, I knew that I’d have to gain a large deal of experience and prove myself in order to be a competitive applicant,” said Shimko.

Wasting no time, Shimko started working in Erik Jorgensen’s genetics and molecular biology lab in August 2011. There, he worked on a transgene insertion project for one academic year.

Before heading home that following summer, Shimko wrote to professors at the university nearest to his hometown—Princeton University—seeking summer research opportunities. Shimko’s proactive attitude paid off when Princeton professor Leonid Kruglyak welcomed Shimko to his lab. There, Shimko studied quantitative genetics and polygenic traits, which are physical characteristics influenced by more than one gene such as height and skin color.

That summer at Princeton served as a turning point for Shimko, who had discovered his specific interests in biology and wanted to gain experience in a different lab that better aligned with his newly discovered research interests. When Shimko returned to the U in fall 2012, he started over in Gillian Stanfield’s human genetics lab.

The following summer of 2013, Shimko entered Erik Andersen’s quantitative genetics lab at Northwestern University. There, Shimko collected phenotype datasets and helped develop a pipeline for the cleaning, mapping and analysis of phenotype data on linkage mapping in roundworms.

“When I entered, the lab was actually just starting up, so it was exciting to be involved in the lab’s inception. I was able to provide a lot of input on the lab’s direction,” said Shimko.

This summer, Shimko will return to Northwestern to continue his previous summer’s work on genetic maps before heading to Stanford University in the fall.

Of his many opportunities and accomplishing his dream of graduate school, Shimko credited the U for its willingness to help undergraduate students obtain hands-on research experience.

“It’s tough to land research opportunities when you don’t have experience to begin with. The U and the Honors College do a fantastic job with helping unexperienced, motivated undergraduates get their foot through the door,” said Shimko.

For students who may be interested in pursuing research but don’t know how to start, Shimko had the following advice: “You have to be proactive. Go out and talk to as many people as possible. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to help. The worst thing anyone can say is no, so don’t be afraid of rejection.”

Chanapa Tantibanchachai is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at chanapa.t@utah.edu.