Melissa Schofiled says that bacteria dictates her life — but in a good way.
The biological sciences Ph.D. student typically spends five days a week in the lab in the company of pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterial pathogen that infects immunocompromised people and forms a slime called a mucoid biofilm.
She has become adept at clearly explaining her research to those outside her field after competing in this year’s Rebel Grad Slam 3-Minute Thesis Competition (3MT). It is a three-round event in which graduate students across disciplines present their research in less than three minutes while using only one PowerPoint slide.
“The biggest challenge of the competition was putting my slide together in a way that made sense and described what I was doing without being too technical,” Schofield said. To test how easily those outside her field could understand her three-minute presentation, she recruited a spectrum of audiences.
“Learning how to talk about your science in three minutes is difficult,” she said. “I practiced presenting with both people I work with and my partner and my parents to see where is the balance of where I'm still being accurate about science but saying this in a way that anyone can understand.”
Schofield’s practice paid off when she placed second overall at this year’s event and won a scholarship of $1,000. While the scholarship was an added bonus, Schofield said that the collaborative spirit was the most enjoyable part of the competition.
“It's fun to see other people's research,” she said. “We as grad students might see a little bit of research from other fields here and there, but it's really fun to be able to go and really see research, especially from departments that are so different from mine.”
Schofield has seen the knowledge exchange that Rebel Grad Slam fosters extend beyond the competition and even the Graduate College.
“I had a friend from my lab taking a mixed course where there's graduates and undergraduate students,” Schofield shared. “Someone in that class asked her, ‘Hey, someone from your lab presented at 3MT and she talked about this, can you explain it a little more to me?’
"Undergrads are getting to see what the grad students are doing, and I think that's really cool to share it with the larger population, because sometimes we're in our own bubbles. It's really nice to get out of your bubble and share what you're doing with the larger community.”
When she was a UNLV undergraduate, Schofield was inspired to study microbiology after working with the department’s professors. Schofield mentions professor Helen Wing, whom she describes as “incredible; she really made me realize I had a passion for the same thing that she did.” She also credits working in professor Boo Shan Tseng’s lab for putting her on “a great track for what I want to do for my career in life.”
When she’s not in the lab studying, Schofield spends her time serving as the Graduate & Professional Student Association representative for the School of Life Sciences and the president of BIOS, UNLV’s association for biology students.
After graduation, Schofield plans to work in the biotechnology or biopharma industry, but for now, she is thriving in the academic space where she can collaborate and share with fellow graduate students. According to Schofield, “I don't think there's a way to do grad school successfully without leaning on your peers.”