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Researcher stresses experience as vital to education

Brenda Blacklock Ph.D. | Senior Lecturer | Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology As an undergraduate science student in Canada, Brenda Blacklock looked at her research work outside the classroom as equally important as anything she would ever learn in a textbook.

She held research positions in a brewery, a pharmaceutical company and Agriculture Canada, and each opportunity offered her real-life experience and insight that she now tries to pass on to undergraduate students in the School of Science. The mentoring she received on the job also helped to hone her skills as a teacher and an accomplished researcher.

“By having that opportunity to go out and work in industry and government labs and work in a research environment, I learned how important it is to work well with people who have varying levels of knowledge and experience,” said Blacklock, a biochemist and senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. 

The URM program, now in its third year, provides students from under-represented groups a $15,000 annual stipend and the opportunity to work for two years under the mentorship of researchers at IUPUI. Fellows in the program also receive training and guidance to get into graduate programs. Now several years later, Blacklock helps to coordinate the IUPUI Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program(URM) in Biological Sciences, which offers rich and challenging research experiences to top students across a wide array of science specialties.

Blacklock also works directly with students in her laboratory, where she specializes in the study of lipid and protein biochemistry as well as biosignaling, the process by which cells communicate with one another and respond to their environment.

“IUPUI students have many more opportunities to do meaningful research than their peers at larger universities,” she said. “Because of the culture in the School and character of IUPUI, faculty are much more open to taking undergrads into their labs.”

“I really enjoy this environment at IUPUI, where there is a real philosophy about the importance of research at the undergraduate level,” she added.

While many students advance tremendously through their work in the lab—learning the technical side of conducting meaningful research as well as the critical thinking skills needed to understand outcomes—others may get a clearer sense of what areas of science they want to specialize.

“These students get in the lab, and it really helps them decide if that’s the type of work they want to do for their careers,” Blacklock said. 

URM students benefit from “seeing people from various disciplines work together on a research effort, so they get to experience the different approaches and different points of view—all of which is very helpful when they begin to explore career options,” Blacklock said. 

This collaborative effort across departments and schools, one of the hallmarks of an IUPUI education, serves as a major advantage for IUPUI students, she said. The university, and especially the School of Science, now has a reputation as an innovative learning environment.

Although Blacklock is rarely far from her research or the School of Science (her husband is IUPUI Associate Professor of chemistry Robert Minto), she does have interests outside of science. The pair and their 10-year-old son enjoy a host of outdoor activities, especially orienteering, a sport where individuals are timed in how quickly they can navigate from one point to another using maps and a compass. The family also returns to Canada regularly to take extended canoe trips in the backcountry of Algonquin Park.

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