Science Research Fellows major provides innovative undergraduate experience

Dr. Rizalia Klausmeyer created a new major at Baylor: Science Research Fellows. Photo courtesy of Srikhar Chilukuri

By Sophia Tejeda | Staff Writer

Baylor offers a variety of majors that work to cultivate skills and prepare students for their future. In utilizing the resources and faculty at her disposal, Dr. Rizalia Klausmeyer created a major, Science Research Fellows, that allows undergraduate students to work in a lab starting their freshman year and develop their course load according to their interests.

Abilene junior Bennett Schackmuth discovered Science Research Fellows through Klausmeyer’s presentation at a Baylor2 meeting he attended as a high school senior. He said his family’s involvement in STEM and support from high school teachers encouraged him to pursue research.

“Science Research Fellows is an excellent multidisciplinary major that looks for students looking to get into research,” Schackmuth said. “We accept students in a multitude of STEM fields, mainly focusing in the general sciences. [The program] is mainly tailored to those pursuing a Ph.D., an M.D.-Ph.D. or an M.D. as well.”

Schackmuth said he enjoys the community established within the major, although he said he wished for more interaction between grade levels, such as instituting a big-little program.

“It is very close in the fact that if I am having a problem in a class or struggling with something, I can reach out to one of my classmates,” Schackmuth said. “I also enjoy the mentorship that Dr. Klausmeyer provides.”

Additionally, Schackmuth said he believes the major contains multiple advantages that will help set him up for success, especially as he plans to attend an M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree program and focus on toxicology research.

“I have the ability to choose the courses I want to take in the sciences,” Schackmuth said. “I consider myself a biochemistry concentration, which would [require me] to take calculus one and two. I decided I didn’t want to take calculus two, so I [took] a different science course … molecular genetics. It gave me the free range to take what I wanted and to better tailor my skillset and what I learn in college for what I want to do in the future.”

For future and current Science Research Fellows, Schackmuth said he recommends branching out and developing community with other Science Research Fellows and the entire Baylor community.

“If students are interested, it doesn’t hurt to apply,” Schackmuth said. “Enjoy being a fellow because there are a lot of perks that come with it, but also reach out and join other groups as well.”

Shreveport, La., junior Srikhar Chilukuri said Science Research Fellows is a firsthand experience that prioritizes the students. Baylor professors present their research to the students, rather than undergraduates working to establish a relationship with professors before asking to participate in their research.

Chilukuri said he would describe the program as selective, especially as the program only accepts 10 to 12 students per year, which he said helps establish a tight-knit group. He said upper-level students provided mentorship for him regarding which professors and classes to take; additionally, he said social gatherings at Klausmeyer’s house helped facilitate and build these relationships.

“It was hard as a freshman to foster connections outside of my suitemates or classmates,” Chilukuri said. “Science Research Fellows [creates] a place to foster community across all four years while also promoting academic research. It is very versatile in what it does for its students. My favorite part is the community. The mentorship I received through Science Research Fellows is unmatched.”

Chilukuri currently works in Dr. Joaquin Lugo’s developmental neuroscience lab, focusing on learning behavior experiments with mice models. His participation in research during high school about how different cells affect the onset of Parkinson’s, as well as Baylor’s intro to neuroscience class, sparked his interest in the research field.

“I really am grateful for this program,” Chilukuri said. “It allows me to do research in a field that is developing each day while also getting the knowledge from the classes. Scientific research is more than involvement for a resume, but something that can cultivate your educational experience beyond that.”

Chilukuri said he hopes to spread knowledge of the program, attract a richer applicant pool and grow the major. Additionally, he said he recommends that Science Research Fellows truly explore all the lab options and choose a field they are passionate about.

“You’re on the cutting-edge of your specific field of science,” Chilukuri said. “You can really have an impact if you take it seriously.”

Chilukuri said he hopes to pursue his medical education at Baylor while conducting neuroscience or orthopedic research and preparing for a future career as a surgeon involved in research.