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A Passion for Creating Student Research Opportunities

Published on 10 December 2019

Amy J. Reese, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, joined St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 2015 after teaching at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for over a decade. She recently published a breakthrough article on the fungus Rhodotorula mucilaginosa in mSphere, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology. We recently sat down to discuss her path to the College, her research and her passion for collaborating with students in her lab.

How did you become a microbiology professor?

I knew I wanted to teach from the time I was in college and I kept following my interests in science.  When I found microbiology, I knew I could get excited about teaching it.  Interestingly, my mother is a teacher and my father is an infectious disease physician, so it makes sense that I ended up teaching about disease-causing microbes. But if you had told me as an undergraduate I’d be doing it, I would have been surprised!

What brought you to St. Louis College of Pharmacy?

I taught at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for 11 years. Meanwhile, my husband, Jeramia Ory, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and undergraduate health professions advisor at the College, was teaching biochemistry at King's College near Scranton, Pennsylvania. We both loved our jobs, but he was driving over an hour to and from work. We have three daughters, and that long commute was very hard on our young family. 

We both did our postdoctoral work at the Washington University School of Medicine and liked St. Louis. In the spring of 2014, we came back for an event and were reminded of just how much we missed the St. Louis area.

In 2015, we found out that the College had openings in both microbiology and biochemistry. The idea of coming back to St. Louis and working at the same place really appealed to us. Working here together has given us the opportunity to really invest in the institution and collaborate on research. 

What type of research do you do?

For the last 10 years, I’ve been researching fungal organisms which cause infections in individuals with compromised immune systems. I have been working with students this whole time, first at Cedar Crest and then at the College. When we published our work earlier this year, I made sure to list every student who contributed to the project over the last decade. The publishers said it was one of the longest list of acknowledgements they had ever seen!

My research began with trying to understand why Rhodotorula infections are hard to diagnose and even harder to treat. With my students’ help, I’ve been able to deconstruct the fungus’ structure and create an antibody to tag it from samples. Students were involved in nearly every part of the process, from harvesting fungus samples and testing them to publishing our findings in the mSphere article and presenting at the American Society for Microbiology national MICROBE meeting in 2019.

How do you choose the students who work in your lab?

I like it when students ask me about opportunities with my lab, rather than me asking them to consider lab work. When they take the initiative to ask, it shows that they’re genuinely interested. If I think they’re a good fit, and their schedule permits, then I take them on for one semester as a trial.

If that first semester goes well, then we set up an official role in the lab. That gives them more responsibilities, plus they get to list their project on their resume.

What do you like about doing research with students?

The most memorable thing about my undergraduate time was my independent senior thesis research project, so as a teacher, I want to create those experiences for my students. I want them to have the opportunity to become an expert on a research subject and feel like they’ve really made a difference.

Also, working with students keeps me motivated and keeps the momentum going in my research. It helps me stay excited about the project, which is important when you’ve worked on one project as long as I have. Students also bring fresh perspectives and ask good questions that push the research forward. I like that collaboration.

I’ve also seen how it benefits students. When they are in a research lab, they get more out of their classes because they can see the connection between theory and practice. I’ve seen students who blossom in the lab and then take those skills back with them to the classroom. I’m delighted that I can provide these opportunities at the College.

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To learn more about student research opportunities at the College, visit stlcop.edu/research/student-research

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