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Sydney Nelson
May 12, 2022

Goldwater Scholar Envisions Career That Addresses Underlying Causes of Untreatable Disease

Honors student Sydney Nelson ’22 — who plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in chemical biology — recently received the Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious undergraduate award for students in science, mathematics and engineering. The honor recognizes and supports exceptional research, with each Goldwater Scholar annually receiving an amount equal to the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board minus the amount of support provided for by other sources, up to a maximum of $7,500.

Sydney anticipates a career conducting translational research in drug discovery to develop personalized treatment for patients with previously untreatable diseases. Conducting research with Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mark Turlington, Sydney has made significant progress toward this goal.

“The idea behind Sydney’s project is that cancers associated with specific problematic proteins could be treated by degrading (destroying) the protein,” Turlington explains. “Sydney’s research involves the synthesis and biological testing of molecules to degrade cancer-causing proteins. What makes her research unique is that these proteins cannot be effectively targeted by current anti-cancer drugs. If her project is successful in the way that we hope it is, the concepts she would demonstrate could also extend to diseases beyond cancer.”

Sydney and her mentor are co-authoring two papers to submit to peer-reviewed publications. Looking forward to graduation in December, Sydney shares a few thoughts on her Berry experiences.

Q. What’s the strategy behind majoring in biochemistry and biology?

A. I had wanted to pursue medical research after seeing family members struggle with diseases that were not fully explained, and learning about the mechanisms that could be used to eventually explain their diseases and develop cures was something that drew me to the biochemistry major. By my junior year, I decided to add a major in biology with a cellular and biomedical concentration. I added this major because I wanted to understand how the biochemistry I was learning affected organisms on a larger scale, and I wanted to know more ways to apply the concepts that I have learned in order to eventually determine creative, interdisciplinary approaches to medical research.

Q. What advice do you have for anyone applying for a Goldwater Scholarship?

A. First, get involved in research early. Approaching a professor about research your freshman year can seem intimidating, but I promise that every professor I know will be happy to discuss it with you and send you in the right direction. Second, you need to be clear about your goals from day one. Make sure that your mentor is aware of your ambitions and is confirming that you are making meaningful progress on your project; that will help build your application for the future. Third, reach out to Dr. Turlington! He is our campus representative for the Goldwater Scholarship, and he can identify steps that you need to be taking early on to be set up for success.

Q. What do you like most about Berry (in addition to your current research)?

A. I have a passion for protecting the environment, so I absolutely love Berry’s large campus that showcases some of the best of what Mother Nature has to offer! I also love how Berry’s liberal arts curriculum has encouraged me to pursue academic interests outside of science and in the field of environmental studies. (I have an environmental studies minor). … Additionally, I have been able to create my own projects to answer questions about the environment and society about which I have been curious for many years, and faculty in that department have greatly encouraged me to explore my interests in that way. I will be completing a directed study under Dr. Watkins in the department of English, rhetoric, and writing in the fall to explore strategies for communicating environmental issues to those who are opposed to environmentally-conscious action.


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