Seizing my moment
Engaging in research has taught Katie Vollmer the value of searching for answers in unknown territories.
“We are set to land” echoed in the plane corridor as I awaited my arrival. It was the first time I had lived in a different country and I was filled with butterflies as I wondered what was in store ahead. Over the next 8 months—from January to August 2017—I would journey across Europe while connecting with others from around the world, igniting my desire to innovate and be a global individual.
During my time at Cardiff University, I lived with Welsh and British flat mates, delved into chemistry courses at a world-class research facility, and traveled throughout 30 countries in Europe and northern Africa. Through these experiences, I gained perspectives from newfound friends who had experienced world events I had never previously encountered. I came to understand that innovation is, in essence, keeping an open mind in the face of the unknown. Some of the most rewarding periods of my life, those moments when I have felt most alive, were when I was beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone, researching the unknown beauty of the world while discovering new territories within myself.
After my world travels, I returned to Drake University with a fresh bounce in my step. Strengthening my communication skills while solo backpacking across Europe and performing experiments at a world-class research institution made me realize that I could be the liaison between foundational scientific discoveries and clinical impact. I wanted to inspire hope among patients by sharing research findings on a global scale.
Diving into the unknown
I began working with a faculty expert on antiviral medications, researching a new antiviral pro-drug to combat human cytomegalovirus (HCMV). I obtained funding through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Because reactivation of HCMV in immunocompromised or immunosuppressed individuals can ultimately lead to end organ damage, astronauts are at an increased risk for infection after returning from long-term space missions in microgravity environments.
The findings were shared at multiple research conferences, including the International Conference for Antiviral Research and the NASA IGSC Symposium, where I was awarded a gold medal for my presentation. Eventually, these discoveries were shared on a much larger scale with my first publication as first author in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Participating in such research taught me the importance of mentorship and the value of searching for answers in unknown territories.
I continued exploring the unknown when supportive mentors and I performed research on a kidney biomarker in the intensive care unit at the Mayo Clinic. As an inpatient intern, I learned innovative thought processes from practitioners of diverse backgrounds and interacted with patients from all over the world. Our published review on this topic of research serves as a powerful tool in both sharing knowledge and spreading diversity.
Innovative thinking is contagious
Interwoven in my professional experiences, I have backpacked for months across five continents in a plethora of countries, meeting individuals who have shared unique words of wisdom. While hiking up tall mountains, tasting rich flavors in cultural dishes, and dancing nights away, I have listened to the words of many that resonated the common theme to innovate and grow in mind and body by discovering new reaches within oneself.
Being surrounded by innovative thinkers is contagious. Inspiring one another through innovative thinking is what allows us to go beyond our boundaries of comfort and discover our potentials. In light of current global events, it is imperative that creative, passionate thinkers spread their wisdom with many to share and execute ideas.
We must continue to seek new experiences in the unknown which, ultimately, will change us for the better.
Katie Vollmer is a final-year PharmD candidate at the Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She is pictured on the cover of this issue, and welcomes student pharmacists to connect with her on Instagram (@katievollmer33).