little things matter
Ali Bouck (they/them) has always found enjoyment in the little things in life. Really little things. A scientist from a young age, Ali has been fascinated by what made seemingly simple processes work on a molecular level.
Ali naturally gravitated towards chemistry classes in high school. Upon the recommendation of an influential teacher, Ali became more inspired by a future in chemistry and completed a pharmacy technician certification program to gain real-world experience in the field. Working as a pharmacy tech proved valuable for Ali; however, they craved work that was more “behind the scenes” of pharmacological development. This epiphany led Ali to recognize that research was their long-term career goal.
But what does a research-based academic and career trajectory look like? For Ali, and many other students like them, those opportunities are mysterious or unknown. This is where the Science Research Initiative (SRI) comes in.
During their second year at the U, Ali came across the new SRI program in the College of Science. Its mission: to place first and second-year science students in discovery-based research, thereby providing the skills and experience to prepare them for academic and professional success.
Ali immediately applied, though didn’t expect to be admitted. “I worried it was an exclusive program that was difficult to get into,” Ali says. So when Director Josh Steffen contacted Ali several weeks later to personally welcome them to the Science Research Initiative, they were “shocked.” That small but personal connection made a big difference to Ali, and demonstrated to them the accessibility of the SRI.
After taking a one-credit course on research methods, Ali joined an SRI research stream, a specific area of study with a cohort of students, led by a faculty member. More specifically for Ali, it was Ryan Stolley’s Underexplored Molecular Architectures stream, which explores the behavior of atoms, the principles of organic chemistry and chemical experimentation. This was a natural fit for Ali’s interests in the infinitesimal. The stream also exposed them to methods of analysis, project management and practical lab experience. But for Ali, it was much more than that.
“I learned how to read scientific papers and [developed] my leadership and science communications skills,” says Ali. These skills helped them ascend to other research opportunities, scholarships and recognitions, which culminated in graduation with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, along with several emphases.
Now in their first year as a bioscience PhD student, Ali reflects on their SRI experience with gratitude. “I received individualized support that helped me with my goals and authentically supported my wellbeing,” says Ali. Additionally, the tangible skills and knowledge they gained, is allowing them to study the development of novel organic and biosynthetic products as a graduate student. “As I learned different techniques in the lab. I found a love for organic synthesis, but having worked as a pharmacy technician throughout my undergraduate career, I want to expand to work on molecules that have relevance in that field.” Ali is poised for a career in industry research after their graduation.
Several years after their SRI experience, Ali still sees their mentors and colleagues around campus and in the Crocker Science Center. “Josh [Steffen] says ‘hi’ every time he sees me and asks how I am doing,” they say. Whether it be science on a smaller scale, or the personal connections formed during one’s formative years, the little things truly matter.
When asked if they’d do it again, Ali Bouck says, “SRI set me on my academic and career path. Joining the program was the best decision I ever made.”
By Bianca Lyon
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.