The Next Generation of Cancer Researchers: Ashley Thompson ’18
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The Next Generation of Cancer Researchers: Ashley Thompson ’18

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By Courtney Hammett ’19

Just weeks after graduating with a B.S. in Biochemistry, Ashley Thompson ’18 (Nisbet Honors) began doing cancer research for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded Ashley $20,000 through the Undergraduate Scholarship Program in her senior year. A stipulation is that for each year of this scholarship, she must dedicate a year to biomedical research. Ashley enjoys the work so much, she’s considered staying on longer. Supervised by Dr. Sharon Savage, her research investigates “the connection between telomere biology and cancer.” Specifically, her current research focuses on “a telomere biology disorder known as dyskeratosis congenita (DC) that ultimately puts its patients at a higher than average predisposition to develop early-onset cancers.”In addition to research, Ashley Thompson in the labAshley participates in the Summer Intern Journal Club through NIH, an informal gathering of medical researchers comparing medical journal articles with their representations in mass media. It helps her exercise her voice as a young woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) research.

Ashley is certain she made the right choice selecting Converse for her undergraduate work in STEM. She came to Converse to overcome an educational lifetime of being outnumbered by men, and here she gained the confidence to ask and answer questions, helping her excel in the classroom. Ashley credits the small, intimate lab settings with facilitating inquiry, networking with professors and classmates, and developing her research interests.

Ashley says Converse helped her to literally find her ‘voice.’ She was hesitant to speak up in her male-dominated high school science classes, but found a welcoming environment at Converse. “The academic preparation I received from Converse could never be matched,” Ashley said. “That preparation is due much in part to our small, but mighty science department.”

I know if I ever need anything, Converse science faculty will be quick and happy to help

While an undergrad at Converse she participated in analytical chemistry research in a lab at Furman University, analyzing the molecular weight distribution of the polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB) biocide. In non-science terms, she conducted research to discover how the molecular weight of a disinfectant in contact lens solution impacted its efficiency, and hopefully shed some light on an eye infection outbreak in 2005. This work became the subject of her Honors thesis.

Ashley with Converse facultyAshley said the support and encouragement of Converse’s science faculty what makes the program so unique. “The ability to develop a more personal relationship with our professors facilitated our progress and hard work both inside and outside of the classroom,” Ashley said.

“I know if I ever need anything, even a year from now, Converse science faculty will be quick and happy to help. I will forever be grateful for my academic mentors and career at Converse.”