Student, Author, & FBI Intern? An Interview with Krista Meserve

This week, we sat down with Krista Meserve, a junior Chemistry student at Emmanuel who recently had some exciting opportunities come her way. Want to know more? Listen in on our interview below!

Her Campus at Emmanuel: Thanks so much for sitting down with me this morning! To start us off, tell more about yourself and your involvement at Emmanuel.

Krista Meserve: Okay, so I’m from Hollis, Maine. It’s where Poland Springs is. That’s pretty much all we have [laughs]. We have a Dunkin Donuts, but there’s no police or anything so coming here was a lot different. I’m a junior Chemistry major, Forensic Science concentration, minor in Math… maybe. We’ll see. What do I do on campus? I work in Admissions giving tours. I’m [the] Public Relations officer for Chemistry club, so I run the Twitter and Instagram. @ECChemClub if you’re not following! I am Secretary of Gamma Sigma Epsilon, which is our Chemistry honors society. I work in the ARC; I’m the tutor for Organic and the study partner for Physical Chemistry, because there was nobody in it who’s taken it before so I’m in it and helping people. I dance in the COF dance project and was a fellow on the Science Living and Learning Community last year… Sometimes I sleep, not often though [laughs].

HCE: I don’t see how you’d have the time! Now, what drew you to sciences? When did you first know you wanted to major in Chemistry?

KM: In high school, I took a lot of math and science classes because that’s what I was always better at, and I thought maybe I should just do that. You know, why do something that you’re not good at? Then I took AP Chemistry senior year of high school and hated it. It made me question, is this what I really want to do? At that point I had already applied to schools for chemistry, so I was like: Crap, here I am stuck and I hate this class [laughs]. But then when I got here, I knew I had the first year to think about my major and didn’t have to make a commitment right away, which was great. I was in CHEM*1103, which takes Chemistry I and Chemistry II and puts them into one semester, and since I had taken AP Chem I took that. I had Dr. Sears and it was great - I loved it! So I thought: Okay, I’m good at this, I might as well continue. So then I moved on and took Analytical [Chemistry] with Dr. Gerdon and from there I loved it.

I think the one thing that I really like is that you look at things and you don’t get it, and you’re like, what is this? But then you learn it and it’s such a great feeling: taking a test and knowing you did well, and looking back on everything knowing you didn’t understand any of it at first. I mean, that’s really across the board, that can be anywhere, but I feel like for me it was most like that in the sciences. So that’s what drew me to it.

HCE: You were part of a research team with Dr. Gerdon that recently received a major opportunity. Before we share the big news, tell me about your work!

KM: I joined the research team my first semester sophomore year. I went to group meetings, met with Dr. Gerdon in office hours, read some papers that he gave me to read. He really wanted to make sure you were really interested before joining the team so you weren’t joining it and then stuck, you know? I was reading papers, didn’t really understand a whole lot, but thought it sounded cool. I started going to group meetings. We have group meetings every week and everyone presents what they did that week so you’re staying up-to-date with everybody. Dr. Gerdon gives feedback and we do weekly updates. My second semester sophomore year, I started shadowing senior Keith Baillargeon and we worked together once or twice a week sequencing DNA and all this stuff. When he graduated, I took over from where he left off on his project.

What we are doing is looking at the mineralization of calcium phosphate to form hydroxyapatite (which is what we think was happening) and that’s what makes up your bones and teeth. I’m using DNA as biomimetic template for this to happen. What Keith did is he selected strands of DNA through this process called SELEX. We were selecting for salt concentration in different rounds. Each round, he would add more salt so theoretically the DNA that came out of that round could mineralize in salt concentrations. He brought it up each time to mimic biological concentrations. Then he sequenced that DNA - I helped him with that when I was shadowing. We did biology… It was a little rough, but we got it [laughs]. It was fun to be able to do plating and PCR and all this stuff that most Chemistry people probably won’t do.

From there, I took those strands of DNA and spent hours, and hours, and hours prepping experiments to run in our plate reader in the Bio lab. I would throw in water, the DNA, calcium phosphate, and an indicator. As the reaction proceeds, hydrogen atoms are kicked off and it creates the more acidic solution so the indicator would change colors. The plate reader will measure absorbance to see the color of the solution and the changes over time. From there, you can see the changes in absorbance and relate that to how many hydrogens were present to see how well mineralization occurred. That was cool to see. So for every experiment I ran, it was a 96-well plate, usually I’d fill about 85 of them if I was running a double experiment and I’d run it for four hours and get a data point every 2-3 minutes. So when that data spreadsheet came back, it would be lines and lines of data. For every experiment I ran, it would probably take 2-3 hours to prep, 4 hours to run, and another 2 hours to analyze the data and get it all organized. So each experiment took a whole day to actually complete. I’d split it up where one day I would run two experiments and the next day I’d analyze data, just to break it up a bit. So, that’s what I did. From there, we moved on to figure out if we could see what the mineral actually looked like that we were forming. So I did infrared spectroscopy once and it worked the first time, which never happens so that was exciting [laughs]. I’m working with dynamic plate scattering now, which looks at particle size and solution, just to get my feet wet with that. That’s my project for this semester.

HCE: That’s amazing! And now for the big reveal… You’ve been published! Congratulations on this huge accomplishment! How does it feel?

KM: I don’t think that it’s real! It’s a communications paper so it’s shorter than a journal paper, but it’s in Chemical Communications!, which is a pretty good communications journal so we’re excited about that. It’s funny because at first when Dr. Gerdon said he was starting to write a manuscript for the paper, I thought, oh that’s cool. He mentioned it had some of my stuff from the summer and I thought, I’ll probably be in the acknowledgements. I thought, my parents will be so proud! I just totally thought I would be in the acknowledgements. But then he came up to me at the beginning of last semester and said, “So I think I’m going to have you and Keith be co-first authors.” And I was like, what? You mean, my name is going to be at the top? I never thought that I would be at that point. He explained to me that the people who are first are the people with the most data in it. So even though he writes it, it’s whoever has the most data that's in the paper. Since I did all that [research] this summer, a lot of the analysis was mine. He said he was going to have me be first author by myself, but Keith did all of the first DNA selections to get me to the strands that I analyzed. And I was like, yeah, I totally understand that. So it’s written on the paper as K. Baillargeon, K. Meserve, and then it has Hillary and Sarah, Sam, Padraig, and Dr. Gerdon. There’s a little symbol next to Keith and I’s names, and down at the bottom it says, “Contributed equally.” We both contributed to same so we’re both first authors. The only reason his name is before mine is his last name begins with a B and mine’s an M [laughs]. Really lucked out on that one I guess! But in our publications folder for our research group, Dr. Gerdon usually puts in the first author’s name and does “et. al.” In our’s, he wrote "Baillargeon, Meserve, et. al.” I was like, aww, I’m so honored!

I definitely didn’t think it was going to be real for some reason. I’m not a scientist, what am I doing here? That’s not me! [laughs] It’s just weird, but I love it. I printed it out and sent it to my mom and dad and highlighted all the things I did. I told them, "That’s mine! How cool is that?" My mom’s been showing everybody.

[You can read more about the Chemical Communications! publication here.]

HCE: That's so cute! What does the future look like for you? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

KM: I had this whole talk with Dr. Gerdon mid-way through last semester, saying I was going to go to grad school for Organic Chemistry because I like that. I like teaching, so maybe a PhD, become a professor. Or research, I love doing research with him. But then I applied for the FBI honors internship summer program at the Boston office. It’s pretty competitive, so I was unsure, but I actually got it! I found out two days ago. I haven’t officially accepted it yet, but I’m hopefully talking to Dr. Gerdon today and accepting tonight. This is all dependent on the background check. Once I accept, they start this huge background check and I would start in the middle of June as an intern at the FBI. How nuts is that?! [laughs] If for some reason I decline it, I’ll let you know, but as far as I know I’m going to do.

At first, I was thinking, how will this look for grad school? It’s not directly Chemistry-related, but it’s definitely really cool. If I want to go into Forensic Science though, which is what I originally wanted to do and changed a little once I got here, then this is huge. Now I’m thinking of getting back on that track. I was talking to Dr. Gerdon yesterday about how I’ve already gotten a lot out of research. If I’m not here this summer doing research again, I’ve already been published and we’re going to San Francisco in a couple weeks for an ACS conference to present the stuff that we’ve been doing. So I think [the FBI] would be a cool opportunity. Anyway, in five years, I’d say I'll be either working in a lab (whether that be for the FBI or something else), or in school getting my masters if I need that to work in federal labs, or in grad school. I don’t really know! [laughs]

HCE: Well, it seems like your opportunities are endless. Thank you again for the interview and congratulations on your success!

[The day following our interview, Krista let me know that she officially accepted the FBI’s offer and will be interning there this summer (pending background check). Congratulations Krista!]