Zach Strickland ’22, Staples, Minn.
Majors/Minors: Neuroscience, Biology; Religion and Chemistry

Please tell us about yourself.

I am a flex-year senior pursuing majors in neuroscience and biology with minors in religion and chemistry. While staying active in The Concordia Orchestra and in research and leadership positions on campus, I can also be found in a coffee shop or biking around Fargo-Moorhead.

Why did you choose Concordia?

I chose Concordia because I could pursue both science and music at a high level. At other colleges, students are often forced to choose one. At Concordia, it’s easy and often encouraged for students to remain active in music throughout their college experience by professors in their major. I’ve even had science faculty and research mentors come up after concerts to check in and say hello.

Was there a defining moment in your college search?

My high school was a tour stop for The Concordia Orchestra’s domestic tour in 2017 and the interactions I had with musicians and faculty present at that visit really sold me on Concordia as a place where I could pursue both of my passions. After that, faculty in both music and the sciences were extremely helpful in navigating the application process and auditioning for a music scholarship.

What sets Concordia’s neuroscience program apart?

Aside from a really strong curriculum, our faculty and research opportunities set Concordia’s neuroscience program apart. Small class sizes and engaging faculty who really make an effort to get to know their students helps students seek out and successfully apply for opportunities both on and off campus. After my second year at Concordia, I took advantage of an on-campus research opportunity in the chemistry department, which gave me the experience to both fall in love with doing research and to be competitive when applying for nationally competitive internships.

Please tell us about your internship with Sanford Health.

I loved my internship at Sanford Research. As part of the Sanford Health umbrella, Sanford Research focuses on research questions with direct relevance for human health and wellness. Getting to be part of that effort is equal parts humbling and exciting.

More specifically, I worked in both the Weimer and Pilaz labs on a joint project working to better understand a rare, pediatric neurodegenerative disease called Beta-propeller Protein Associated Neurodegeneration (BPAN). The project goal was to understand how changes in protein expression, protein interactions, and glial activation contribute to the disease’s development.

What did an average day look like for you?

Broadly speaking, my days usually consisted of collecting data through experiments, evaluating if the experiments worked effectively, and then analyzing that data. Typically, I was running two to three experiments in parallel because some protocols have lengthy incubation steps, so learning to manage time effectively in the lab was a fun challenge.

How did you hear about this internship opportunity? What drew you to apply?

I heard about this internship opportunity through professor Krys Strand. After learning more about the program and the focus on research pertaining to human health and wellness, I realized that this program was a great fit for my interests and goals.

Did you enjoy living in Sioux Falls for the summer?

I really enjoyed living in Sioux Falls for the summer. While smaller than Fargo-Moorhead, there were plenty of fun things to do outside of the lab. I loved getting to know the other interns in my cohort and exploring a new city together. Also, after getting into cycling during the pandemic, I loved the 20-mile bike loop that runs around the city and the active cycling community here.

How did your previous research projects at Concordia help prepare you for your internship?

My projects at Concordia prepared me for this experience by helping me fall in love with doing research and by giving me a strong foundation of knowledge to build on. Without my previous research experiences at Concordia, I would’ve had much more catching up to do in the first few weeks of the summer.

What advice do you have for Concordia students who are pursuing research internships in the medical field?

First and foremost, ask your professors if they’re doing research. Getting involved in on-campus research was so much fun and was critical to my development as a scientist. After that, apply to several summer research programs. Many programs have acceptance rates of less than 10%, so applying to several programs increases your odds dramatically. You can find information on summer programs both on campus and off campus from the URSCA office, Handshake, and the Student Opportunity Center. Apply even if you think you’re underqualified. It’s OK if you don’t have a ton of previous research experience; everyone starts somewhere. The worst thing that can happen after applying is getting a polite email saying that they didn’t have the space to offer you a spot in their program.

When applying, remember that there is one chance to make a good first impression. Ask several people to look over your application materials. The Career Center is a great resource for help with CV/resume preparation and in writing your personal statement. And, as always, start the application process early. Creating a strong personal statement takes time.

What are your plans for the upcoming year?

In addition to finishing up my degree and playing in The Concordia Orchestra, I have stayed on with the Weimer lab as a part-time research specialist working remotely on data analysis, figure design, and some writing projects. I wasn’t planning on this at the start of the summer, but I’ve really enjoyed working with the people in the Weimer lab, so I asked if I could stay on part time going forward. I’ll also be applying to graduate school.

Read about Zach’s previous research experience.

Photos courtesy of Sanford Health