Researching Her Future

June 28, 2006

During the summer, most college students tend to take a much needed break.

And while many spend their days sleeping in, watching gameshows and hanging out at the Coralville Reservoir, Hawkeye Volleyball player Melanie Meister is doing something quite different.

She is buried in a laboratory in the bowels of the Eckstein Medical Research Building, peering through a high-powered microscope at stained trophoblast cells from a human placenta.

“We are looking at the role of the IRF6 (Interferon regulatory factor-6) gene in cleft lip and palates,” Meister explained. “Basically, we are looking for ways to prevent cleft lip and palates in children.”

So much for hanging out at the Res.

“It’s really fun,” Meister insisted. “In the beginning, I had to learn a lot of the basics, from staining procedures to how to use the microscopes. But now that I know all of that stuff, I can do a lot of my own research and draw my own conclusions. It’s a lot different than taking a biology lab – this is real research. I took a genetics class last semester and learned a lot, but now I am actually applying the techniques I learned. It’s a lot more beneficial to actually use the knowledge instead of just memorizing information.”

This might seem like a unique summer job for a college student, but it fits Meister – a biology and pre-med major – like a glove. The West Des Moines native is looking ahead to next year when she will be taking the MCATs and applying to medical school.

The experience in the lab will be a great addition to her applications.

“After grades and MCAT scores, research and volunteering are the biggest things medical schools look at, so this will be extremely beneficial for me,” Meister said. “A lot of applicants have volunteer hours working in a clinical setting, but not as many have experience in a research setting. Having that on your application is just one more way to stand out from the pack.”

Her other job at the University of Iowa – playing middle blocker at Carver-Hawkeye Arena – should also help the future doctor.

“Being a collegiate athlete shows that you can manage your time by structuring your schedule between practices, games and studying,” Meister said. “Aside from that, there are many things I have learned through years playing volleyball, such as perseverance and dedication, go into studying and preparing to be a doctor. Getting into med school is very competitive, so I kind of look at it as going into a season or preparing for a big game. You have to know exactly what you need to do, then sacrifice what you have to in order to achieve it.”

When Meister does get accepted to medical school, it will be the beginning of a road the Hawkeye has prepared for since high school. As a senior at Valley High School in Des Moines, Meister was exposed to the world of medicine while taking a class in which she was able to follow local doctors during their workday.

Her path initially took her to Cal State-Fullerton, which had a good pre-med program, but no medical school. After two years there (and two seasons on the Titan volleyball team), Meister returned home and enrolled at the University of Iowa.

“There are so many advantages in having a medical school on campus and having a hospital on campus,” the senior said. “What I am doing right now proves it.”

Meister will join the rest of her teammates in August, preparing to take on the Big Ten during the 2006 season.

Compared to battling birth defects on a microscopic level, Wildcats, Badgers and Gophers should be no problem.