Name: Aaron Daugherty, ’09
Major: Biology
Academics: Ethyl Scholar
Activities: Undergraduate/honors research with Dr. Laura Runyen-Janecky
Outdoor Club
Biology Lab Teaching Assistant

Just a few shorts months after graduating from Richmond, Aaron Daugherty began a 10-week research program at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil under Dr. Santuza Teixeira. The experience was funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Describe your research project.

Building on the preliminary work of Dr. Teixeira, I am currently attempting to verify that IL-15 interacts with T. cruzi and that it does so via amastin proteins en vivo. To accomplish this I am first attempting to locate cell lines that express IL-15, or short of this, create a cell line that does. Next, we’ll look to see if IL-15 associates with T. cruzi cells and if Amastin and IL-15 bind to each other. This will probably take most of my time, but if not, I’ll get to see what impact IL-15 has on T. cruzi growth, development, and infection and how it may accomplish any observed phenotypes.

How’d you get involved in the project?

I was interested in performing research abroad, and so I applied for an HHMI grant to do exactly that. I looked over a list of available research opportunities and several professors stood out as people I thought I would be interested in working with. Dr. Teixeira agreed to invite me to work in the lab and helped me decide on a suitable project to work on.

What prepared you for this opportunity?

By far the most important thing I did to prepare was study some basic Portuguese! I wish I had been able to do more but lab work is conducted in English for the most part, so I am able to get by.

How will this project contribute to your development as a scientist?

This experience has exposed me to techniques that I was only vaguely familiar with or had only heard about in class. I’ve been able to explore many new fields in biology, not only from working in the lab but also through being exposed to the research of other professors whom I’ve met here.

What’s been your favorite part about living in Brazil?

Definitely the people—everyone is so incredibly warm and friendly. There’s a really strong cultural emphasis on family. Besides the people, I love the food, the sights, and the weather. The pace of life is completely different from that of the United States, much slower, and it’s forced me to chill out a bit!

What’s next after Brazil?

After spending 10 weeks doing research here, I’m off to Indonesia where I’ll teach English on a Fulbright grant. I’m planning on doing some traveling after that and eventually returning to school in Fall 2011 to obtain my PhD in biology, probably in genetics or some related field.

Tell me about the process of applying for both a Fulbright grant and an HHMI grant during your senior year.

For the HMMI grant, I answered questions about my qualifications and my motivation for wanting to do research abroad. Since I had a couple of years of research under my belt and I had a good idea of what kind of research I wanted to do, that part was pretty simple. The HHMI Web site even had a list of professors who were willing to take on international students in their labs, so I was able to list my top choices in my application. I chose by research topic first and then by location. After that, I sent in my transcript and a few letters of recommendation—I was actually amazed by how straightforward the whole process was.

The Fulbright was a completely different story. Even though I applied for the simpler of the two kinds of Fulbright grants (the teaching assistantship as opposed to the research grant), it was still a pretty in-depth application. There were six pages of forms and two different essays. One of the essays required me to write a biological narrative of sorts, focusing on cultural exchange. Before starting the application, I had to decide where I wanted to go, and that decision took a while. After the application was turned in, there were two rounds of interviews—all in all, a pretty strenuous process!

What book is on your bedside table?

I just finished The Alchemist, and since I’m in Brazil, I’m having a hard time finding an English-language book I want to read! I’m also trying to read the Quran to prepare for the Islamic boarding school where I’ll be working in Indonesia.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A basketball player… and then I stopped growing.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

It’s allowed me to not be pigeonholed; though I love scientific research, I’m not just a scientist. I’ve been able to go abroad and discover a love for traveling, while still performing publishable research and taking really diverse classes.