Monday, August 9, 2010

Alex Einfeldt did not know what she was getting into when recruited to join the Iowa Biosciences Advantage program.

A graduate of Durant High School in eastern Iowa, Einfeldt loved science, but didn’t know the first thing about research.

“I knew I would be working with science and that there were a lot of professors at the university doing research,” said Einfeldt, who will be a senior physiology major in the fall. “(Research) was a buzzword that was dropped a lot, but I wasn’t sure what it entailed until I actually met with my potential mentor and took a tour around the lab.”

Einfeldt is immersed in developmental psychology research, and she has IBA to thank.

IBA, which identifies academically talented undergraduate underrepresented students with aspirations for a research career, matched her up with her first mentor – former UI faculty member Scott Robinson – and encouraged her to present her research right away.

“What makes developmental psychology special for me is I like the kids and I like learning about how everything develops so we can understand when things don’t go right,” said Einfeldt, who is interested in ways of preventing autism and cerebral palsy.

Currently, she is working in Professor Julie Gros-Louis’s lab that studies language development.

“It really intrigues me when kids learn how to talk,” Einfeldt said. “Developmental psychology appeals to me because it’s so applicable and it makes it easy to talk to other people about the work I’m doing.”

Einfeldt has gained valuable professional development experience, presenting her research to the scientific community and the public thanks to financial assistance from IBA.

IBA pays for students’ travel expenses to conferences as long as they are accompanying their mentors and making presentations.

Einfeldt’s first poster presentation occurred at the Graduate College’s Summer Undergraduate Research Conference following her freshman year.

“I had been doing research for a semester and right off the bat I was presenting a poster, trying to figure out how I could explain all this stuff,” said Einfeldt, who also has presented her research at professional meetings in Chicago and Washington, D.C. “That immersion in the situation was the biggest teaching experience.

“It was very nerve-racking. The biggest thing I learned from that experience was I needed to prepare more. My goal has been to capture that bigger picture in my poster and my speaking presentations and make sure everyone who visits my poster knows the bigger picture.”

Einfeldt recently earned the James D. Robertson Scholarship for her inquires in psychology and religious studies. The Robertson Scholarship is presented annually to a third-year student in the social sciences who comes to the UI from an Iowa high school then proves outstanding in academic performance and promise. She also received the Stevens Phi Beta Kappa Scholarship for 2010-11. This award honors a UI student for their academic attainment, excellence of character, and dedication to others.

Einfeldt is scheduled to graduate in May 2011 and plans to attend graduate school, possibly at the UI