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Chemistry graduate blends research into academic journey

Misty Martin
Misty Martin

If anyone should ever ask if Misty Martin has done the research, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”

The University of Texas at Arlington senior will graduate this May with an honors bachelor’s of science degree in Chemistry and plans to go on to medical school after taking a gap year to work at Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern in Dallas, where she has been hired as a research assistant.

At Children’s, she will analyze biological samples using mass spectrometry. Her goal is to be accepted to UTSW’s combined M.D./Ph.D. program and eventually become a pediatric oncologist, with the goal of revolutionizing the field of pediatric cancer treatment.

Ultimately, she would like to practice medicine and conduct research. She would also like to become a professor at a university, “where I may have an impact on my students as my professors at UTA have had on me,” she said.

Martin’s tenacity in the research world isn’t unique to UTA students. What makes her story remarkable is that all of her academic accomplishments have come while being a mom. Martin had a son while in high school and while becoming a parent at such a young age obviously presented considerable hurdles for her in terms of her education, she never wavered in her commitment to her goals.

“It certainly was not the easiest circumstance; it was difficult trying to balance being a mother full-time with schoolwork and attending school full-time,” she says. “However, I never once doubted myself, and having my son only made me more determined to succeed so that he would have a mother he could be honored to have.”

Martin knew early on that chemistry was the subject for her. An enthusiastic advanced placement chemistry teacher at Red Oak High School helped instill a passion for the field in her, and also touted UTA’s program. 

Martin graduated from Red Oak High School with a 4.0 GPA and she has continued her academic excellence at UTA since enrolling in Fall 2014. She jumped at the opportunity to get involved in research from her very first semester on campus as a member of the Achieving Success in Science through Undergraduate Research and Engagement or ASSURE program. The immersive program allowed her to participate in drug discovery research and helped her gain critical-thinking skills and a knowledge of the world of research.

Martin was selected for the prestigious UTA Honors College Undergraduate Research Fellowship in 2015, where her research involved determination and isolation of antibacterial compounds from natural products coupled with optimizing methods to better extract and isolate these compounds.

In 2016 she received a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation or LSAMP fellowship and conducted research on identifying bacteria from contaminated groundwater. By this time, her affinity for research had led her to amend her original plan of becoming a medical doctor to earning a master’s/doctorate and going on to do research in oncology.

In spring 2016 she was hired as a supplemental instruction leader for an Organic and Quantitative Chemistry class. She helped students to better understand and grasp the course material and through the experience, she found that she loved to teach and help students learn.

“That experience served to solidify and justify my aspiration of pursuing a doctorate in chemistry in addition to medical school,” she said.

Last summer Martin participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at UTSW’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where she studied skin cancer cells to see the effect of knocking down the GLUT1 transporter gene.

She has received numerous awards and scholarships in her four years at UTA, including first place in the 2015 COS Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry Undergraduate Research Poster Symposium, the Charles R. Knerr Memorial Scholarship, John T. Murchison Endowed Scholarship, Ann H. Benham Endowed Scholarship, Stuckler Family Endowed Scholarship, Chance Vought Engineering and Science Endowment, and the Laurence E. Baker Memorial Scholarship, among others.

She has been a member of the UTA chapter of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Society, where she served as president, and the Honors College Council, where she was treasurer. 

“Misty is far and away the most driven, mature and intellectually sound undergraduate student I’ve encountered in my 11 years here at UTA,” said Kevin Schug, College of Science interim associate dean and Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry. “Misty’s exceptional intellect and maturity, coupled with her time management skills, make her the total package as a scientific researcher. She is a model of the quality and tenacity that we want to encourage for undergraduate researchers at UTA.”

Although many admire her because of her academic accomplishments, Martin says she’s most proud of the fact that she has succeeded while overcoming challenges in and out of the classroom and laboratory.

“I like to think of myself as a positive role model to others, not because of my academic success but because I am a reminder that you can always pick yourself up and do whatever your heart desires, no matter the circumstances,” Martin said.