Marisa Egan

During my sophomore year at SJU, I became a member of SJU’s Sigma Xi Chapter. My membership in Sigma Xi enabled me to pursue my research interests, communicate my experimental findings with the scientific community, and strengthen my networking skills.

I began conducting research during my freshman year in Dr. Shantanu Bhatt’s lab. In his lab, I investigated the virulence of two enteric pathogens, enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) and Escherichia albertii. During my sophomore year, Dr. Bhatt encouraged me to apply for the Sigma Xi grants. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a National Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research (GIAR) and local Sigma Xi Grant. Through the funding generously provided by Sigma Xi, I was able to advance my work in Dr. Bhatt’s lab. The funding enabled me to conduct research in Dr. Bhatt’s lab for the next two years, including two full summers, at SJU. Ultimately, this research experience helped me to develop my own deductive reasoning abilities in the context of hypothesis-driven science.

Moreover, during the fall of my junior year in 2016, I had the unique opportunity of presenting my findings at the National Sigma Xi Conference in Atlanta, Georgia with Dr. Bhatt. The conference was a highlight of my undergraduate career. During the conference, I presented my work through a poster presentation to leaders in the STEM field and interacted with undergraduates from across the nation. In particular, I presented my work to Dr. Jamie Vernon, the current executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi. After the presentation, he generously offered to sponsor my Sigma Xi membership for the next year. Because of Sigma Xi, I was afforded the incredible opportunity of interacting with renowned scientists, like Dr. Vernon, who inspired me to continue my scientific career. The conference was an exciting hotbed of scientific communication and productive networking, one that molded me as a student, thinker, and scientist.

Today, I am pursuing a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. I know that without my Sigma Xi membership, my research journey would not have been possible. I feel eternally grateful to Sigma Xi and to Dr. Bhatt for the resources, opportunities, and funding that they have afforded me.

LeitheadAmanda Leithead, (BS/MS Psychology ’17)

As a student in the Psychology B.S./M.S. program studying Behavioral Neuroscience, the SJU chapter of Sigma Xi was instrumental in my growth as a scientist. The society allowed me to strengthen my presentation skills, facilitated networking with scientists from a variety of disciplines, and provided financial support for both my research and conference attendance.

During my time at SJU, I received two internal grants from the local chapter of Sigma Xi and one external grant through Sigma Xi’s Grants-in-Aid of Research Award. These funding opportunities allowed me to conduct my research on the effects of paternal care on the maternal behavior of female offspring in the bi-parental California mouse. I was then able to present this work at the research symposium held on campus, as well as the national Sigma Xi Student Research Conference in 2017. The SJU chapter of Sigma Xi kindly sponsored my trip to the national conference, at which I had the incredible opportunity to network with young scientists training in several different fields.

On both a local and national level, I believe that Sigma Xi provides excellent support and mentorship opportunities for scientists in training. Being a member has helped me to advance my career in research into my current position as a student in the Neuroscience PhD program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.


Alessandro Sparacio (BS Biology ’17)

As a member of SJU’s Sigma Xi Chapter, I have been afforded several opportunities to present my research, communicate with other students and researchers in STEM from around the region, and engage with current discussions in the scientific community through online and paper publications.

I started my research journey at SJU by enrolling for an independent study project as a senior. Through my project, I was able to investigate a topic and practice techniques that excited me under the mentorship of my professors. Overall, research at SJU has helped me grow as a student, critical thinker and problem solver.

Through my undergraduate research, I found a passion for microscopy and microscopy techniques, which led to my enrollment in the SJU M.S. in Biology graduate program. I am currently preparing to defend my Master’s Thesis that centers on characterizing the development of a complex extracellular structure in the microscopic nematode Caenorhabiditis elegans. Through my research journey, I have practiced my scientific communication through presentations in our lab and University community, as well as the broader C. elegans research community at local meetings and a nationwide conference. I credit my mentors, our lab, and involvement in Sigma Xi in helping me grow personally and professionally as a researcher.

Mary Szurgot (Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania)

As a Chemical Biology major interested in pursuing a career in research, the SJU chapter of Sigma Xi supported me immensely throughout all four years of my undergraduate experience. During my time at SJU working in the labs of Dr. Edwin Li and Dr. Matt Nelson, I focused on the use of a genetically-encoded biosensor to measure levels of the second messenger molecule cAMP in the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Early in my research experience, I was awarded an external grant from Sigma Xi’s Grants in Aid of Research program to help fund my project, and my senior year, I received a travel award from the SJU chapter of Sigma Xi to help fund a trip to present my work at the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology National Meeting in Chicago.

In addition to these opportunities, I was also able to present my work and network with other scientists from a diverse variety of disciplines each year at the Sigma Xi Research Symposium hosted by SJU for members in the greater Philadelphia research community. The mentorship, presentation and networking experience, and financial support I received through research at SJU and membership to Sigma Xi has helped me grow as a scientist and has helped lead me to my current status pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ryan Vance, MD Candidate at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University

I received my B.S in biology from SJU in 2016 and am currently a second-year medical student at Cooper Medical School. One of the key experiences from my time at SJU was my research project conducted in the lab of Matt Nelson, where we used the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans to study sleep. Specifically, my project focused on the role of cyclic AMP, a small molecule involved in numerous physiologic pathways, at the neuronal level in the sleep-wake cycle of C. elegans. Participating in this project allowed me to think critically and design my own protocols, as well as apply important biochemical and physiologic principles learned in the classroom. I was also fortunate enough to present my research at the Sigma Xi symposium at SJU during my senior year. The process of designing a poster and presenting your work is an important foundational experience for any rising scientist or physician. Presenting my research laid the ground work for developing my communication skills which is crucial in the medical realm. A large component of my interactions with patients in the clinic is being able to synthesize the material from the classroom with the patient’s diagnostic information and present this to the patient in a coherent and meaningful way. I attribute much of my growth in this domain to the research experiences I had at SJU and I encourage any aspiring scientist or physician to undertake a research project with a mentor.