Barry McNamara  |   Published April 28, 2021

‘A Step Ahead’

Award-winning chemistry students Croslow, McLaughlin well-prepared for graduate school.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Participating in research projects throughout their four years at Monmouth College is only part of the appeal for chemistry majors at the national liberal arts college. They also have several opportunities to present their research, sometimes on a national stage, which will serve them well for graduate school.

CO-'LAB'-ORATORS: Chemistry professor Audra Goach is pictured with Kyle McLaughlin (left)... CO-'LAB'-ORATORS: Chemistry professor Audra Goach is pictured with Kyle McLaughlin (left) and Seth Croslow. The pair of award-winning students worked on the Brewster Angle Microscope between them, as well as other successful research projects during their time at Monmouth.Monmouth seniors Seth Croslow of Lawrenceville, Illinois, and Kyle McLaughlin of Chicago, who both work in professor Audra Goach’s research lab at Monmouth, were among those who participated in this spring’s virtual American Chemical Society meeting, a four-week long conference that runs through April 30.

“One of the great things about Monmouth is all the opportunities available for students, from the summer research program to presenting at conferences,” said Croslow. “It really puts you a step ahead.”

Goach and Croslow gave invited talks at the conference.

“Seth spoke in a session with high-powered professors from all over the world,” said Goach. “The professor right before his talk was from the UK, and the one right after his talk had just been featured in a leading science magazine. He did a really great job.”

“We have a strong research program that gives students an idea of what it’s like to apply the discipline. They can see whether or not they have an interest in medicine, or in working in industry.” Audra Goach

Matt Simonson ’22 of Monmouth also gave a talk at the ACS meeting. Monmouth seniors who presented posters for the conference were Victoria Burgo of Chicago, Alex Cutright of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Trevor Jones of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, Katie Richter of Trenton, Illinois, and Julia Sterr of Clinton, Illinois.

‘Strong research program’

At Monmouth’s recent Honors Convocation, it was announced that Croslow received the Don R. Josephson Memorial Prize for outstanding work in the sciences. McLaughlin received the senior biochemistry honor.

Goach said the pair of seniors has taken full advantage of what Monmouth College has to offer.

“We have a strong research program that gives students an idea of what it’s like to apply the discipline,” said Goach. “They can see whether or not they have an interest in medicine, or in working in industry. They also get a lot of practice with communicating their work, by presenting at conferences and presenting to students here. They also write about their work. For example, Seth wrote an undergraduate thesis.”

McLaughlin will attend a Ph.D. program at the Medical College of Wisconsin and plans to be part of the research faculty at an R1 university, a school classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as a doctoral university with very high research activity.

“Working in Audra’s lab has given me crucial skills in how to approach scientific problems,” said McLaughlin. “It’s helped me to develop methods to study whatever we’re studying and to think critically.”

Croslow is unsure which path he’ll take, so he’ll use his years in graduate school to figure it out.

“I might want to go into industry, or I might want to teach at a research school,” said Croslow, who will study material science in the Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois. “That’ll depend on the next five years. I’ll be a teaching assistant as part of the program, so that’ll help me see how I like teaching.”

The liberal arts advantage 

Goach said Monmouth students get to have a similar experience, testing the waters while receiving a well-rounded education.

“This is a great place to be because they have these other opportunities,” said Goach. “They might say, ‘I like chemistry, but I’m not sure what I want to do with it.’ So maybe they’ll take some business classes and get into chemistry that way, or maybe they have an idea to work in the media, and they take communication or writing courses. We have this great liberal arts education they can be involved in. We’ve had chemistry majors who also had majors in subjects such as history, business and Spanish.”

“The lab is very do-your-own-thing. At some schools, labs are very structured, and your adviser is breathing down your neck, watching your every move. Here, you get the freedom to make the project that YOU want to make.” Seth Croslow

In addition to that flexibility, Goach said her department provides a “win-win” teaching approach, giving chemistry students the independence to work on research projects, but also being easily accessible.

“The lab is very do-your-own-thing,” said Croslow. “At some schools, labs are very structured, and your adviser is breathing down your neck, watching your every move. Here, you get the freedom to make the project that YOU want to make.”

“In grad school, I rarely saw my adviser,” said Goach. “That gave me the independence to fail, which ultimately allows you to succeed. But we’re also not like the average lab at a huge university. We’re only working with about 10 students or so each, so we can provide a lot of individual attention, if they need it.”

“At Monmouth, you get the freedom to figure things out on your own, which leads to great science.” Audra Goach

Some of that independence for Croslow and McLaughlin came in the construction of a Brewster Angle Microscope (BAM), a piece of equipment with a cost “typically in six figures,” said Croslow. As an underclassman, Croslow helped Monmouth graduate Brandon Allen – who’s now studying at Yale – with his Lego version of a BAM. He and McLaughlin have since worked on a new model, using aluminum supports and pieces built on the department’s 3-D printer.

“They get all the credit,” said Goach. “They did it themselves. At Monmouth, you get the freedom to figure things out on your own, which leads to great science.”

Croslow and McLaughlin have also collaborated with the graduate students of Goach’s research collaborator at Colorado State University.

“They helped her students analyze data,” said Goach of another win-win. “It’s very helpful to her students, and it’s a great experience for our students to be involved in graduate-level work while they’re still undergrads.”

Goach, Croslow and McLaughlin submitted a pedagogical paper about that research, which has to do with the development of a lab to teach students how to use micropipettes through visualization of data.

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