When your resume reads two-time captaincy of a NCAA Division III cross country team and a member of roughly 10 different clubs and organizations, most would consider their extracurriculars covered. Well, that is not the case for Abby Keim ’19, who is completing dual degrees in biology and psychology, and has already submitted her medical school applications for next fall.
Keim is in the midst of a four-year ‘extracurricular’ project where she conducts research to examine how olfactory, or the sense of smell, might be a predictor of brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, before symptoms exist. This research project, led by Associate Professor of Psychology, Dr. Alefiya Albers, was a natural fit for Keim whose interest in the nervous system was first piqued during high school biology.
Research is unpredictable and it’s easy to give up if you don’t get the result you want or if something unexpected happens. In running, it’s easy to quit when your legs hurt. In both, you need to overcome challenges to reach a long-term goal.
However, this opportunity to be Dr. Albers’ research assistant didn’t just fall into Keim’s lap. “When I came in as a freshman, I was determined to make the most of my four years here. Within my first month at Endicott, I reached out to Professor of Psychology, Dr. John M. Kelley, who does placebo research. At that time, he didn’t have any projects, so he referred me to Dr. Albers.” Fast-forward to three-and-a-half years later and Keim and Albers are still a research team.
“I’ve been really lucky to work with Abby during her entire time at Endicott,” says Albers. “She’s been a great model for us, and other college students, in terms of how we do research in an engaged way. It’s a good example of how getting involved early on is beneficial because research is slow and often times it takes many iterations of an idea before you get it right.”
Working as a research assistant alongside Dr. Albers has proved to be beneficial for Keim in more ways than one. She shared that the research process has taught her that no matter how much you plan, something unexpected is always going to happen. “I’ve gotten very good at adapting and taking things in stride—which can of course, can be applied to real-life. I’ve learned to roll with the punches,” says Keim. Additionally, she has learned how much she enjoys connecting with patients—something she was hesitant about upon pursuing medical school. This project has also helped her recognize that the reason she enjoys research so much is because she gets to answer questions that will ultimately help her patients.
Something else that has been beneficial for Keim? Her internships. After two internships in a pathology lab at the University of Vermont, she learned that she wanted to work in a clinical setting where she had patient interaction. This led her to working alongside Mark Albers, M.D., Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for her semester-long internship where she did research in a lab environment that was structured to be clinically applicable—a perfect blend of what she was looking for. It was working at MGH that allowed Keim to discover translational research, the area she now hopes to work in once she receives her M.D.
When she isn’t administering tests to subjects, collecting information, and analyzing data, Keim can be found running. While running cross country and conducting research seem like two entirely different extracurriculars, Keim says that both require similar traits—persistence and dedication. “Research is unpredictable and it’s easy to give up if you don’t get the result you want or if something unexpected happens. In running, it’s easy to quit when your legs hurt. In both, you need to overcome challenges to reach a long-term goal.” She also shared that while there is one author who might have their name on a research project, there are many people helping behind the scenes and an immense amount of collaboration that goes into tests and everything that is published. That behind-the-scenes teamwork is also present in running.
The project Keim is working on is one of many happening on campus. She shared that from her experience, every faculty member who is currently conducting research wants students to get involved. “It’s a matter of knowing what your interests are and taking the initiative to reach out and say ‘could I maybe join a lab meeting to learn a bit more?’ There are so many different layers of opportunities at Endicott and I think everyone could find something that they are passionate about to get involved in,” says Keim.
“One of the hallmark offerings of the Endicott education is that we build real-world experiences into the curriculum throughout students’ four years. That includes everything from required internships, to encouraging our students to interact with faculty, and to take advantage of research opportunities,” says Albers. “Research is wonderful because it gives you that real-world experience while also directly extending what you’re learning in the classroom.” She also notes that for psychology students, research is an integral part of their education.
Keim says that the connections and opportunities that she’s had during her time at Endicott have shaped who she is today and will continue to do so in the future. “My professors and friends have taught me lessons that I will carry forward with me.”
Albers says that the faculty on campus are a valuable resource for students, and she encourages students to reach out to them to get advice and learn about the research opportunities that are out there.