Even when you have a pretty good idea of want to do with your life, your undergraduate years still can present you a lot of different variations on that plan. Not even halfway through her sophomore year, Meghan Hartry is taking full advantage of her options. An Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Pulmonary Research labs on the sixth floor of the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, Ms. Hartry not only gets one of the best views of the Iowa City skyline, but she also has a front-row seat for some of the most cutting-edge research at the University of Iowa.
Originally from Petersburg, Illinois, Ms. Hartry knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue something in the field of science. Although, she says, “When I was very little I wanted to be a veterinarian.” A love for animals aside, she may have been destined for engineering. “I can remember when I was about ten years old, I was breaking open my laptop, fixing it, and installing Linux on it.” In high school she had a particularly engaging biology teacher, giving her her first experience of lab work, performing electrophoresis gels among other activities.
Coming to the University of Iowa was an easy choice for her. “I went on an engineering visit and they just blew me away with their presentation.” And then, less than two months into her first year, Ms. Hartry logged on to Hire-a-Hawk in search of a campus-based job. There were many postings in labs and research facilities around campus that appealed to her and she applied to a few. “But the postings all came down not long after I applied,” she says. “So when this one called me for an interview, I couldn’t remember which one they were calling about!” In Ms. Hartry’s first trip to the sixth floor of the PBDB, she met Mallory Stroik and Ryan Adam, two researchers in the Stoltz Laboratory. They explained the variety of tasks that Ms. Hartry would be responsible for. “I got along with them very well. . . . I didn’t feel terrified that I was in an interview, and I could just have a conversation.”
One of the major activities in this lab is studying how cystic fibrosis (CF) affects pigs with this chronic disease, which is characterized by a thick mucus coating and clogging the body’s respiratory system. The CF pig, developed at the University of Iowa by Dr. Mike Welsh, has provided a wealth of data about how CF affects people. Ms. Hartry points out, “I don’t even know what they did before. Nothing else is as similar to human airways.” Researchers produced thousands of CT scans of CF pig airways, tracking their ability to move particulates through in response to various types of interventions. By layering thousands of these scans on top of one another researchers could produce one picture and a sort of “race” of particulates to see which interventions are most effective in direct comparison. Although Ms. Hartry did not write the code that did this layering, they let her spend time studying it, so she could see how it works. (It is no surprise that one of the faculty researchers Ms. Hartry works with, Dr. Mahmoud Abou Alaiwa, won a Distinguished Mentor Award earlier this year.)
When faculty and supervisors are not teaching Ms. Hartry how to teach herself, they are marveling at her work ethic and skills. Mr. Adam, a Graduate Research Assistant, says, “Meghan takes on anything you throw her way.” He admires her ability to untangle difficult questions by “breaking them down into a number of smaller problems” and then “systematically tackling (them) one by one.” Another benefit Ms. Hartry brings to the lab according to Linda Powers, Research Manager, is her engineering training. That background, she says, “provides her with a different perspective than many other students we typically employ.”
Beyond the daily growth in lab work and coding experience, Ms. Hartry has taken advantage of other opportunities that the university offers. She is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and of Women in Computer Science. “We talk about things like career fairs or tips or experiences others have had, like if someone just had a really good interview.” And while she still manages to get home pretty regularly to see her parents and their new puppy, she has also fallen in love with Iowa City, everything from its relaxed pace in summer to the variety of Chinese food available.
Ms. Hartry is keeping her options open for career opportunities and internships through the university that may give her a greater variety of computer engineering experience, but she is still very committed to the work she performs in the Pulmonary lab, which is all the better for her effort. Peter Taft, Research Manager, says, “Meghan is an inquisitive and perceptive person with many talents. I look forward to watching as her career progresses!”