SRI Stories: hands-on learning during COVID



This is me out on the frozen bed of the Great Salt Lake, collecting soil and water samples. It might be sunny, but it was freezing, and I think I still have salt stuck in my boots.



My name is Lauren, I’m a senior majoring in biology and philosophy of science, and I was a member of the first cohort of the Science Research Initiative (SRI), first-year research program in the College of Science. For my project in the antibiotic discovery stream, led by Dr. Josh Steffen, I cultured a library of halophilic bacteria that thrive in the Great Salt Lake. In a time when most of my classes were online, the SRI offered the opportunity for hands-on learning, both in a lab and in the field. In just my second semester, I was gaining valuable research skills and synthesizing concepts from my other classes. 

We took a closer look at our benchwork (an example is pictured to the left) with weekly journal clubs. Dr. Steffen helped us tackle academic articles that were directly applicable to our research and in turn enforced our understanding of the fundamental ideas at play.

These exercises combined with my work in philosophy of science and a year-long novel writing workshop through the Honors College spurred the realization that my true passion lies in science communication. 







Oh … and during my spare time I took a job at the stock room in the Department of Chemistry where, among other things, for BeReal, I wielded bolt cutters that were almost my height. En garde!


When I told Dr. Steffen that I loved science but didn’t think research was for me, he helped me find a role where I could play to my strengths and apply my scientific expertise.

Now, as a science writer intern for the College of Science (I’m posing here with my fellow interns), I talk to students and faculty about their research and turn their experiences into stories that everyone can engage with regardless of their background.

zebrafish (Danio rerio)

So, it turned out that laboratory research didn’t end up being the path for me. Even so, my participation in the SRI has been one of my most radical experiences at the U. During my time in the program, I developed confidence in the lab, professional connections and a lasting community within the College of Science. One of my favorite projects I covered was a paper from the Gagnon Lab about a chemical sunscreen called gadusol found in zebrafish. The research paper reading skills I learned from the SRI came in handy on that one!

There may be a point in your academic career at the U where, like me, you aren’t sure you even belong at the university – or in science at all. But the SRI and Dr. Steffen helped me see that a career in science can take many forms, not just being “at the bench” but wordprocessing away on a laptop telling stories about science. Sky’s the limit for you as a science major as well. 

I am honored to have been among the first cohort of SRI students and gratified to see how the program has already developed in the few years since its conception. Already, SRI scholars are producing great work, and I’m excited to hear (and write about) their imminent discoveries across all disciplines of science. 


by Lauren Wigod
Science Writer Intern

SRI Stories is a series by the College of Science, intended to share transformative experiences from students, alums, postdocs and faculty of the Science Research Initiative. To read more stories, visit the SRI Stories page.

Read more College of Science stories by Lauren Wigod here.