Carnegie Mellon University

Alumni: Tim Helbigtim helbig

Tim was a major in Biological Sciences, graduating in 2010.  He currently resides in Boston as a first year graduate student at MIT for Microbiology.  As an undergraduate, Tim earned a Goldwater Scholarship, was a finalist for a Marshall Scholarship, and was an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa Society Member.

Title of Undergraduate Research Project / Type of Support:

Project 1.) Environmental Assessment of Nano-Silver, Summer 2009, SURF

Project 2.) Developmental Differences in Thermal Stress Response in Arabidopsis thaliana, Fall 2009, SURG

Project 3.) Analysis of single chain variable fragment(scFv) binding to cyanine dyes, Spring 2008, SURG

When did you become involved in undergraduate research at CMU?   The summer after my freshmen year. I was in a program called the Summer Research Institute(SRI).  I was really lucky to be able to start research this early on in college; I'm not sure what would of happened to me otherwise. 

How did you find your mentor?   For project #3(Dr. Peter Berget): This project was a continuation of what I had done in SRI.  Dr. Berget was my mentor there, and so he was again when I applied for the SURG that semester. (This was done with a partner: Justine Harkness who now goes to University of Pittsburgh for a PhD in ??)

For project #2(Dr. Stephen Tonsor): I met Dr. Tonsor through an e-mail I sent out to University of Pittsburgh faculty looking for research in plant science.  He was kind enough to offer me space in his lab, so I went and worked for him starting in the Fall of 2008.

For project #1(Dr. Elizabeth Casman and Dr. Mitchell Small): I found both of these mentors through recommendations from Dr. Indira Nair. 

What successes or difficulties have you encountered in this project or others?  My favorite success in any of the projects I completed was using programming outside of a computer science class. (In project #2 above) It was a really crude java program that would tell you if any areas of a gene were rich in particular nucleotides.  Any computer savvy person would have looked on it with disdain, but I was very proud of it. 

In all of these projects there were many difficulties and not just ones where experiments didn't work.  I was learning life lessons all over the place; it was a mess.  The problems would range from things like PCR not working correctly (Project #3) to my lower abdominal wall not working properly in retaining my organs (project #1) and forcing me to go home to get hernia surgery.  Both cost valuable research time.

If you could summarize your experience in one word, what would it be?  Brouhaha. [but in a good way]

How did your undergraduate research projects help to shape your future after CMU?  I haven't had an extensive future outside of Carnegie Mellon yet, so they [the research projects] haven't so far influenced it directly.  But, the experiences I've had doing these projects has given me some confidence in what to expect from the work that I'll be pursuing.

Answering this another way, the research I performed is one of the main reasons I even decided to go to graduate school in the first place. So, you could make a logical chain from any event happening to me as a result of grad school right back to the research I got to do at CMU.