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Finding the Research You Love

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 13, 2017) – Molly MacIsaac of Saugerties has found a rich and supportive environment at UAlbany for conducting undergraduate research.

That environment has opened doors to new opportunities. With lots of encouragement from her research mentor at UAlbany, MacIsaac, now a senior, landed an internship at Harvard Medical School this past summer.

Working in Harvard’s Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology Summer Scholars Program, she furthered her research on the DNA nanoswitch by studying single-molecule force measurements using a Centrifuge Force Microscope in the Wong Laboratory.

“I really couldn’t be where I am today without immense support from UAlbany and all the incredible students and faculty there,” MacIsaac said. “Dr. James Stellar and my principal investigator, Dr. Ken Halvorsen, have been two of the most influential mentors, and if I hadn’t come to UAlbany, I would never have met them. All I can say is ‘thank you.’”

MacIsaac is a Biology major, studying biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in Mathematics, who plans to be a surgical physician. Her current area of research is bioanalytical, working on programmable DNA nanoswitches that are designed to detect specific microRNAS with a focus on disease pathology.

“Molly is a terrific student who combines the best of intelligence, insight, and hard work to produce results that are really at the graduate level — a sure sign of future success,” said Stellar, UAlbany's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Halvorsen, a senior research scientist in The RNA Institute at UAlbany, lauded MacIsaac for her curiosity, motivation and perseverance. “Research experiences offer undergraduates a different learning process where new knowledge must be actively extracted by experimentation,” he said. “Molly has taken full advantage of opportunities at UAlbany and persevered through challenges to make significant contributions in the lab.”

MacIsaac said she's grateful that she found an area of research that fired her curiosity. “Luckily I ended up falling in love with the work I do,” she said. “Now, my research is my passion, and something in which I have immense pride. I think the most important advice I could give is: Find research that you love. Once you do, it will no longer feel like work, and your research will flourish because of that.

“Since elementary school I have always had a love for math and science,” she said. “Sometime in middle school the idea of being a physician intrigued me, as my love for science was coupled with a desire to understand how the human body works.”

MacIsaac is also interested in mission work, particularly in the developing world.

“Recently I had the opportunity through UAlbany to travel to Nicaragua on a medical brigade and began to gain a global understanding of medicine. Ultimately, I would like to practice as a surgical physician in Third World countries.”

Coming to UAlbany as a freshman, MacIsaac wanted to explore undergraduate research, though she wasn’t really sure what it entailed. She looked up departmental websites to read about labs that conduct research in the life sciences. Mainly, however, she talked to older undergraduate students as a way to explore research opportunities.

“I began research the summer of my freshman year,” she said. “Dr. Halvorsen was looking for an undergraduate at the time. I was recommended by word of mouth, I reached out to him, we had a meeting, and by the end of the day I had joined the Halvorsen Lab — it sort of fell into my lap.”

For more information on Undergraduate Research opportunities on the UAlbany campus, email

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