"While doing research at CSP, I was autonomous and I got to spend my time in the lab doing critical thinking and doing literature reviews. It was exactly what I thought research should be."
Colton Baumler graduated with degrees in biology and chemistry and a minor in mathematics from CSP in December of 2018. After a season in trade school and then serving in the military, Colton found his niche in biology and research and is now applying to grad school to pursue his PhD. We sat down with Colton to discuss how CSP impacted his decision to pursue biology and mathematics and how his passion has turned into his path to graduate school.
Q: What were your most important factors to consider when you were selecting a college?
A: The feel of the campus. When I came to orientation for the first time, it was small and intimate and it has always been that way throughout all of my classes. All of my faculty that have taught me, we’ve gotten to know each other on a first name basis. That’s something I couldn’t get at similar campuses.
Q: What do you think creates a quality academic experience?
A: From an individual standpoint, when you go into science or math, one thing you need to have is perseverance. You’re going to learn things out of your depth until pretty much senior year. It’s that ability to keep yourself afloat while you’re treading water. I feel like that’s the strongest thing. With the faculty, you can walk in and knock on their doors as long as it’s open – they’re willing to help you with the smallest thing. They’ll walk you through – not give you the answer – but help you understand. I took biology with Dr. Yang and if you didn’t understand, she explained it in another way. If you were still staring blank, she’d explain it in another way until the students got it. They’re not just steamrolling through the course.
Q: I have a note that you attended trade school and served in the military. How did your path leading to Concordia influence your decision to attend Concordia and how has it shaped the way you view your education?
A: I recently gave my thesis and in it, I talked about perseverance to maintain and learn in research. I graduated from high school with a low GPA. They basically gave me a diploma so I’d leave. I spent a year trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Should I continue my education? I figured I liked working on cars and so I went to trade school for that profession. I found that if I enjoyed something, the education side was good. When I went into the military, I was in the mechanic field and I watched the older mechanics sort of degrade – their bodies got beaten up. Chemical spills, knee problems, back problems. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I got here. A teacher told me I would be good at biology; it was like second nature.
Q: Did you encounter any challenges during your time at Concordia? If so, what were they and how did you work through them?
A: I suffered traumatic brain injuries in the military. When someone says you have brain damage, it is a bit daunting. It’s affected my memory and my communication skills pretty severely. So over my time here, I’ve been recovering from what happened in 2013. Some of the effects don’t go away. Also, trying to be an adult student with an age gap between myself and the typical student and finding common ground with the younger generation.
Q: Share a favorite moment from your time at CSP.
A: My first semester in research, Dr. Yang gave me a paper and said: “this is interesting.” This high school teacher in Japan took a chicken egg embryo, removed the shell, and then got it to hatch with a 50% hatch rate. They basically replicated an eggshell. Dr. Yang said, “let’s try to replicate this.” She was headed to Taiwan, so I spent the summer doing research and Skyping with her.
Q: Tell me a bit about the research you conducted that summer.
A: A researcher from China took a cubic vessel coated with a permeable window to see through. I replicated that and then combined two styles for our vessel. I’ve tried to improve. The one that I started off with seemed to be best. I was autonomous and I got to spend my time in the lab doing critical thinking and doing literature review. It was exactly what I thought research should be. And I found that I enjoy it thoroughly. So that’s why I applied to grad schools in research.
Q: Tell me about the grad school application process. Where have you applied?
A: I’ve applied to eight schools. One is a common application between two schools. I applied for biochemistry, bioengineering, and one of the schools has a joint program that you can apply for one and you can also do interdisciplinary computational biology with a bioengineering degree. It’s been no free time and no sleep basically. I have relied on the people around me. I’ve relied on my groupmates in research to be able to do their part and we did a great job this past semester. We did more testing than ever. The applications are time-consuming, can be expensive, and difficult to write about. You suddenly have to get out of your shell and tell people why you’re great. It was a difficult process for me. I finished mine in two days. They were a grueling two days.
Q: How did CSP prepare you for graduate school?
A: In my biology classes, we worked on our resumes and cover letters which are supplementary things you can attach to your application. So, I got in contact with the professors for their input. They all gave me feedback. I’ve done a lot of scientific writing for Dr. Yang. I’ve written her one thesis and now I am going to write another for honors. The first thesis I submitted as another supplementary piece of information. Now, I’ll have two and show the difference of who I’ve become as a scientific writer.
Q: How have your experiences shaped you and where you’d like to go from here?
A: I’ve become much better at communicating and being able to think through scientific literature and understand what they’re trying to say. During my research project, we learned about the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome when ethanol is involved. Something I learned from Dr. Yang and all of my biology professors is to sit down and draw it out.
Q: What is the most valuable takeaway from your time at Concordia?
A: The possibilities are pretty much open here. All you have to do is try.