Organization Fosters Connections for Students Involved in Research

For students in research, the journey toward earning a graduate or postgraduate degree can be rewarding once they begin laboratory work, but at times, also very isolating.

“Once you join your lab, you go to your specific department, and even within departments, we hardly see each other because we are just doing the individual work that our lab focuses on every day, day in and day out,” said Meagan Kingren, a doctoral student in pharmacology and nutritional sciences.

Many research students begin their training in the College of Medicine Integrated Biomedical Sciences (IBS) program, a first-year core curriculum that serves as the entry point for six doctoral programs. In an effort to maintain connections among learners beyond the IBS program, alumna Chelsea Barrett, PhD, spearheaded a collaboration with the Office of Biomedical Education to establish the Biomedical Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) in 2016.

Kingren is now president of BGSO, which gathers PhD students, master’s students, MD/PhD students, and other learners in basic science departments to collaborate, network, and socialize. Learners in BGSO have coordinated tailgates, cook-outs, gatherings at Keeneland, community outreach projects, and more.

BGSO has been a particularly important resource amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the beginning, when research students were sent home to mitigate spread of the virus, social events moved to virtual platforms, and later, in outdoor locations that allowed for physical distancing.

“I think for a lot of the extroverts like myself, the pandemic hit pretty hard,” said Tanner Anderson, a neuroscience doctoral student. “Even if it’s via Zoom, it’s still good to at least have a virtual beer with your friends and play silly games online together.”

BGSO now has more than 200 students actively involved and has become more than an avenue for socialization. The organization is a support system for learners in biomedicine, helping future researchers become even more prepared for future scientific endeavors.

Doctoral student Reagan Lamb said she even credits BGSO networking opportunities for helping her find her true passion – neuroscience. She now works in the lab of Salvatore Cherra, PhD, examining the role of a gene implicated in the development of schizophrenia and epilepsy.

“I think that it ended up being incredibly crucial to figuring out exactly where I wanted to go and where I wanted to fit,” Lamb said. “I don’t think I would have been able to figure that out as clearly or as well without having this network.”

All graduate students, postdocs, MD/PhD students, and master’s students at the UK College of Medicine are part of BGSO. To learn more about BGSO happenings, follow the organization on Twitter: @BGSO_UKY.