Mahal Bugay

Mahal Bugay '19

Major: Biochem & Molecular Biology

Minor: Spanish

GEMS, RCMS Chemistry Learning Assistant
STEM Scholars Program: 2016

Research Title: Identification of cultivable bacteria in monarch eggs, larval guts and milkweed plants
Research mentor: Dr. Jacobus De Roode at Emory University

Who inspires you?
All the women scientists that I’ve met have inspired me the most because they’re so confident in themselves and they don’t put up with any BS. It's great watching them conduct all this cool research.

What career paths are you considering?
I'm kind of leaning towards being a professor or working as a researcher for a nonprofit institution. Someone suggested I could do both.

For the real nerds, what did you find?
The main two conclusions from my project were that there were no differences in the bacterial communities of the plants, but there was a difference in the bacterial communities of the diet treatments. This suggested that the two caterpillars reared on the two different diets had distinct gut microbiomes, which is one of the key takeaways.

What did you gain from the experience?  (Career-wise?  personally? academically?  fun?)
I lost the preconceived notion that in research people know everything. My mentor, Erica, was really straightforward with me just asking as many questions as I could. She’d prefer that I asked a question and gain that knowledge rather than me stay ignorant and mess up. I also learned that research is difficult and not everything works. A lot of the gels and other mini experiments that I had to do to answer my questions didn't work. On a personal level and career wise,  I really enjoyed the research I was doing. I liked the questions that they’re asking and I had an interest in environmental stuff before, but I didn't really know what that looked like in terms of what is environmental or ecology based research until that experience. That experience really drove me to continue doing research there and to continue asking the ecological questions that I want to ask.

Did you gain any self-knowledge from the research experience?
I really liked research at the end. I liked asking questions. I found out that I had to be patient and that I couldn't rush certain steps. For example, when you’re writing tube labels over and over again, you can't be messy with it because it's not going to be legible. You're going to hate yourself in the future if you are messy. From this, I learned how to organize the experiment and and be efficient so the experiment could run smoothly later on.

What is your next step in your academic/career path?
A PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis. I’ll be joining their Evolution, Ecology and Population Biology PhD program next fall. It’s about a five to six year program, and the one person I want to work with is definitely Dr. Penczykowski. She studies plant-pathogen interactions more so than insect-pathogen interaction that I’ve been working on. I’m super excited about it!

What was challenging about research? How do you handle those challenges (or how did you see people handle them well)?
When things don’t go the way you expect them to go. I think being patient enough to understand that you may have to redo an experiment because it failed. You have to figure out what went wrong and then redo the experiment.

What surprised me about myself was… I eventually stopped thinking about others’ opinion about myself. I stopped caring if other people thought I was stupid for asking a question. 

Fun Facts about you: (hobbies, interests, places traveled, weird skills, etc.)
I started nature journaling, so I’ve been pressing flowers in a journal. It's been very therapeutic.