The Hidden Gems of Undergraduate Research

Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachel Anderson and neuroscience major Paisley Buchanan ’22 received a 2021-22 Edgren Scholarship to research their project: “The Effect of Social Housing on Learning Ability in a Rodent Model.” This student-faculty team’s collaboration illuminates the value of undergraduate research opportunities at Bethel and across the nation.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

January 10, 2022 | 4 p.m.

Student-faculty research team Paisley Buchanan '22 (left) and Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachel Anderson (right) thrived as recipients of a 2021-22 Edgren Scholarship.

Student-faculty research team Paisley Buchanan '22 (left) and Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachel Anderson (right) thrived as recipients of a 2021-22 Edgren Scholarship.

Last summer, Assistant Professor of Psychology Rachel Anderson and neuroscience major Paisley Buchanan ’22 discovered something that could one day change how researchers conduct experiments for the long term.

The student-faculty team had received funding through Bethel’s Edgren Scholars Program to start researching a question Anderson has been asking herself for years: Are rodents experiencing unnecessary stress due to the way they’re treated during an experiment? The short answer: mostly likely.

Anderson’s background is in stress research, specifically focusing on how stress impacts learning ability and memory retention. To motivate animals to learn a task, animals need to be slightly food deprived. And for that food deprivation to occur, social animals, like rats, need to be housed alone. If all the rodents are experiencing low-key stress because they’re housed alone with a limited food supply, the controlled condition isn’t truly unstressed—which could ultimately affect the experiment results. Anderson wanted to see if rodents who were pair-housed and had unlimited access to food could learn the same task as their stressed counterparts. Their project produced data that suggested they could.

“For students who want good hands-on research experience, they are benefited to go to a small school because they're not competing with doctoral students. They are the students doing the experiments with amazing researchers on the top of fields at Bethel.”

— Rachel Anderson

The perfect time to conduct the experiment proved to be last summer. As Anderson prepared to have a child in June, she looked for someone who could work independently and shoulder the bulk of the in-person research. Buchanan immediately came to mind. “Paisley had been working with me on other things, and she's just a Rockstar,” Anderson says fondly. “I really wanted this opportunity to work with her.”

Buchanan was excited to gain this hands-on experience fit for her graduate school applications. Programs look for candidates with robust research experience since they’re familiar with the scientific process and know what to expect in the program. “Research is not for everyone,” Anderson says. “It's helpful to have that experience before you dedicate five or six years of your life to it.” As she spent hours every day examining rodents, Buchanan embraced the independent nature of this project and was excited to see what she could handle by herself—knowing that Anderson was ready to support her every step of the way. Throughout the summer, Buchanan discovered a deep love for delayed gratification, especially as she conducted her scientific analyses and realized she had made a discovery. 

Anderson explains that this project is the preliminary step in the whole process since the main goal was to determine if they were even onto something. Now that they know they are, they have to prove their results again. Buchanan has also begun to share their research at conferences and connect with other scientists who have personal experience and knowledge on the same issue. 

Anderson says that smaller universities like Bethel are hidden gems for undergraduates looking to hone their skills, gain experience, and form valuable connections. “As someone who has been at small institutions and large institutions, the opportunity for undergrads to do hands-on research is way greater at small schools like Bethel,” Anderson shares. “You get to know your professors, and you're doing every part of the experiment. I had undergraduates in my previous labs washing dishes.”

Nearing the end of her time at Bethel, Buchanan has grown to realize how much she likes physics, computer science, and subjects rooted in math. Through her classes and experience as an Edgren Scholar, she has decided to pursue a research career in neuroengineering. She’s also impressed by how much she has accomplished throughout her undergraduate education at Bethel. “It's so cool to see like undergraduate research is really valuable because you get to do things that aren’t typically funded on a doctoral level,” Buchanan says. “There's not so much pressure. You can find cool things that someone is not going to put money into at those higher levels.”

Neuroscience at Bethel

Bethel students will be placed at the forefront of demand in emerging careers that utilize the skills and knowledge that a foundation in neuroscience provides. Your Bethel professors possess expertise in their varied research interests and are committed to leading you toward excellence and distinction through hands-on experiences both inside and outside the classroom. The neuroscience degree gives you the flexibility to pursue a wide variety of interest areas while helping you stand out as you pursue advanced degrees and career opportunities.

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