The Importance of Undergraduate Research: How Gigi McGaughey Got Involved, and the Places It Has Taken Her

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When fourth-year biology major Gigi McGaughey first started her studies at Georgia Tech, she had a natural interest in exploration and desire to learn outside of the classroom. But she could not have predicted how undergraduate research through Georgia Tech would lead to global travel, insights into her future career path, and self-discovery. 

McGaughey’s first research experience began by chance. During a Chemistry 1211 class in her first semester at the Institute, McGaughey told her friends about her interest in research. Her teaching assistant happened to overhear the conversation and recommended that McGaughey contact the Stockton Group, where he worked. A few emails and an interview later, McGaughey was poised to start undergraduate research in her second semester on campus. 

“I got involved with research because I wanted to explore what science was like beyond the classroom — meaning I wanted to answer questions that had no answer yet, rather than performing experiments with an expected outcome,” she says. 

Through her current work in the Stockton Laboratory, McGaughey is answering the question about how isolation chips, or iChips, can cultivate microorganisms in situ that do not grow in traditional methods. 

“Approximately 99% of Earth’s microbiological diversity is uncultivable in traditional lab conditions, so the iChip could give us valuable information about organisms we may not know anything about, including how to grow them in the lab,” says McGaughey. “Additionally, in 2015 the iChip was used for identification of a new antibiotic, Teixobactin, which could be vital as current antibiotics become less and less effective.” 

These possible long-term implications of her research make the time and meticulous efforts invested in research worthwhile. Even though many hours in the lab can yield minute results, McGaughey reminds herself that every bit of new knowledge gained through research is important.  

“When my ideas produce tangible success, such as plates full of thriving microbes, it makes me feel proud of being a scientist,” she says. 

For McGaughey, one of the most special parts of Georgia Tech is the widespread support from alumni, faculty, and students who have fostered her development. Last summer, she was inspired to create a unique international research experience. By collaborating with the College of Sciences and the School of Modern Languages, and exploring the Georgia Tech Europe Alumni LinkedIn page, she created her own research position in Jena, Germany.  

“The College of Sciences, especially the School of Biological Sciences, is always willing to provide assistance to students in search of unique, career-shaping opportunities,” she says. “I met Rebecca Cooper, a postdoctoral fellow who happened to work in a lab in Jena, Germany, so I decided to go there to conduct research under her!” 

Without the support of the Georgia Tech community, McGaughey believes that her research abroad may not have happened. In a desire to give back to the community that supported her, she has become involved with the Georgia Tech chapter of Undergraduate Research Ambassadors. As the chapter’s vice president of campus relations, she promotes the organization's services and resources across the Institute. 

“I truly believe that anyone can do research, and I want to empower my fellow Yellow Jackets to do so,” she adds.  

Because of her experience in the laboratory, McGaughey also says she’s more definitively tuned future career goals. While she once aimed to pursue a career in global health policy, she is now more interested in focusing on epidemiology. 

“I see myself using science as a background to an office position, rather than working in a lab directly,” she says. “Immediately after graduation, I hope to pursue a fellowship or begin a Master of Public Health degree, so I can continue to use the skills and knowledge I have gained in research.” 

Through undergraduate research, Gigi McGaughey has faced challenges, fostered relationships with professors, and has discovered the authenticity and innovative spirit of Georgia Tech. Grateful for the many lessons she has learned, she adds that she hopes to help other students discover their own research opportunities. 

By: Grace Pietkiewicz


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  • Created By:kpietkiewicz3
  • Created:05/12/2020
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  • Modified:05/19/2020