The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

Vos heads to Cornell for biochemical research program

By Sally Jongsma

Cheryl Vos says she'd rather do scientific research than teach -- at least that's how she feels going into her Ph.D. program.  But who knows what will come, she saysCheryl Vos arrived at Dordt College four years ago, intending to go to medical school after she graduated. Two summer research assistantships have changed her mind and paved the way for her acceptance into a prestigious Ph.D. program in biochemical research.

“I love doing research,” she says, “narrowing down a study until you see how things relate or how to solve a problem. It is so incredible, and the problems are so complex.”

Doing scientific research is now her career goal. She’ll move to New York City to do two lab rotations this summer, looking at cystic fibrosis to determine how to trigger the microbe that brings it out of dormancy. As she begins her Ph.D. program at Cornell University, she’ll be working in the facilities of Cornell Medical School, Rockefeller University, and Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute in Manhattan. In the future she expects to participate in research that looks at drug design, helping refine the way scientists understand existing biological pathways, she says.

“There’s so much equipment and money for research there. It’s so exciting,” she says.

Vos, who will graduate from Dordt with biology and chemistry majors, is one of only eight people accepted into the selective Training Program in Chemical Biology based at Cornell but run cooperatively with the other institutions. After doing her lab rotations in New York City, she’ll spend her first year on Cornell’s campus taking primarily chemistry courses. The second year she’ll return to New York City for more biological research and course work, and the third year she’ll choose where to study based on how she specializes.

“This is the perfect program for me,” says Vos, who was also accepted at three other institutions, including Johns Hopkins. “Biology is very qualitative and chemistry picks things apart. I like them both, and this program combines them.”

Vos, who is from Edmonton, Alberta, applied for a National Science and Engineering Research of Canada (NSERC) grant, originally intending to go back to Canada for graduate school.

“They seem hesitant to give NSERC grants to people who have studied outside of the country,” she says.

Vos did have an NSERC grant for summer research at the University of Alberta following her sophomore year at Dordt. The following year, although she didn’t receive the grant again, she was again hired to do research by the university. In fact, she credits that experience and the publication that grew out of the work for her acceptance into Cornell’s program. The article, published in the January 2001 issue of the chemistry journal Analytical Sciences, was titled “Violet Diode Laser for Metal Ion Determination by Capillary Electrophoresis - Laser Induced Fluorescence” and co-authored by Jeremy E. Melanson and Dr. Charles A. Lucy.

Vos will receive $20-$25,000 each of the three years in the program, along with full tuition waivers, medical insurance, and funds for conferences.

“It’s a more intensive Ph.D. than some I looked at—it’ll be like getting a Ph.D. in chemistry and an M.A. in biology at the same time,” she says.

But although she knows it will be a challenge, she is eager to begin. She feels she has a good base from her summer work at the University of Alberta and her preparation at Dordt. She’s grateful for the cooperative work she was able to do here, getting to know her professors well and being encouraged to pursue an advanced degree.

And she’s grateful for the friendships she’s made in her last four years, her anticipation overshadowed slightly with regret at having to leave good friends heading off into many different careers and cities.