Research Profile 4: Dr. Pamela Brown

**Full Interview Down Below

How do things grow? For many of us, this question is an afterthought, completely irrelevant behind questions like “Where’s the nearest pizza restaurant?” or “What would happen if I had to survive a zombie outbreak?” While certainly not at the forefront of everyday life, finding out the mechanisms of growth of living things can provide insight about healing, evolution, and how to defend against harmful bacteria and more. This is where Dr. Pamela Brown, a microbiologist and strong advocate of undergraduate research, makes her study. 

 “I love bacteria- which sounds weird, but they’re super fascinating organisms to study- so my research lab is focused on bacteriology and I teach microbiology courses [at Mizzou]. I’m currently the Director of Undergraduate Research for Biological Sciences as well, which is a really fun opportunity to help match students with research labs to complete departmental honors and meet their goals of gaining science experience through research experiences.”  

Dr. Brown’s lab, as part of the Division of Biological Sciences, investigates how bacteria go about growing into different shapes, and how uneven growth forming different shapes might benefit or hurt the bacteria. Other labs in the division, such as Lauren Sullivan’s, Yves Chabu’s, and Ruthie Angelovici’s work on other biology topics like seed dispersal effects on prairie restoration, tumor ecology and cancer cell communication, and the development of more nutritious seeds. The research environment varies widely with the area of study.  

“In [Dr. Angelovici’s] lab, it’s a mix of greenhouse experiments and field experiments and bench experiments and computational. She really has a whole gamut of opportunities and has worked with students in computer science or engineering and biological sciences from all over campus.” 

Other labs may be based in field work, microscopy, or a plethora of other platforms.  

According to Dr. Brown, one of the most important skills for undergraduates doing research is perseverance and understanding that failure will happen. She emphasizes how in the typical academic track students learn how to study and take tests to achieve their final grade, but in a professional research setting, effort and results don’t always correlate. Thus, learning to accept failure and move on is vital to continued success in research. She also notes how important it is to articulate your own interests when looking for a lab, approaching faculty from an authentic place “not just [with] the goal of having a line on your CV.” 

With such a breadth of opportunities in Biology, it may seem daunting to find a lab with a good fit. When she was an undergraduate, Dr. Brown’s first research experience was in an analytical chemistry lab. 

 “It was not good. I learned that I’m not a chemist … but it kind of shows that even a less than stellar first engagement of research isn’t a catastrophic failure. It doesn’t necessarily mean that science isn’t for you. I joined [a microbiology] lab in my sophomore year and spent almost three years working in that lab … and it really just kind of changed my entire view of what science is, what it means to do research.” 

Especially for students interested in grad school, Dr. Brown believes in the importance of getting research experiences early and switching out to a different group if the fit isn’t right.  

Research in the Division of Biological Sciences is incredibly diverse and universally exciting. Pam Brown sees the importance of getting undergraduates involved in this area, even if they don’t stay with research after college. “The most satisfying comment one of my undergrads told me was that she knew she didn’t want to do research, but she wanted to keep doing it as an undergrad,” she says, “because she felt like it was going to really help her meet her goals when she goes into public health and public policy because of the training that she’s getting as a scientist.” With such important research happening across all life sciences at Mizzou, there’s no excuse not to get involved as an undergraduate.  

For more info about undergrad research in Biology, check out our full interview with Dr. Brown as a podcast or in video format.  Special thanks to the MU Library Digital Media and Innovation Lab.

To view the video format click here:

To listen to the podcast in audio format, click down below.