#IAmScience Maddie Graham

By Becca Wolf | Bond LSC

When the pandemic hit, Maddie Graham’s lab life shifted focus.

The junior biomedical engineering pre-med student suddenly started to find answers by extracting RNA out of wastewater to help detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, which reiterated how important science is in our lives.

“I don’t think medicine would be anything without research,” Graham said. “I think it’s really important to see the other side of things, understand how things have come to be and how they’ve made these medical advances. It was cool to be able to do something related to Coronavirus when the pandemic started.”

That understanding is something Graham never thought she’d seek out when she first came to Mizzou.

“I wasn’t planning on doing research because I didn’t think I would like it,” Graham said. “Originally I thought, ‘No, that’s okay I’ll focus on other things like volunteering and stuff.’”

But as she was taking classes, her friend Braxton Salcedo suggested that she work in the lab he was in.

“She has a good personality and is very intelligent,” Salcedo said. “She was a good partner in class, she pulled her weight and was a good communicator. When the professor said that he wanted to bring on more undergrads, I knew she would be a good fit.”

Graham thought it sounded interesting. She decided to apply and got the job.

Now, Graham has spent just over a year as an undergraduate researcher in the Marc Johnson lab at the Bond Life Sciences Center.

“At first I imagined that undergraduates just wash the dishes and stuff, but it was cool when he told me that you actually get to be part of the science aspect,” Graham said.

Starting out pre-pandemic, the Johnson lab focused on HIV. Graham was making new plasmids to help manipulate genes for the graduate students and Johnson to use. Now she studies SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater and community trends associated with it.

Graham’s perspective on research has certainly changed since she started. Now that she is in upper-level courses, she is starting to see an overlap between her learning and her job.

“I’m in Cell Biology, and the things I’m learning are directly related to things I am doing in the lab,” Graham said. “It’s cool when there are moments where I see why we’re doing certain things and the reasoning behind it.”

While Graham is experiencing research, she is still unsure of what she specifically wants to do once she gets to medical school.

“I have a lot of time to figure that out,” Graham said. “So somewhere down the road, after I get experience in other areas, I’ll hopefully know.”

The research is going to help her wherever she ends up.

“She has good hands-on experience here,” Salcedo said. “Just in general, she’s a good worker and she’s nice to be around too. I think camaraderie is one thing that our lab really has that I’m not sure a lot of other labs have. For the most part, all of the students in the lab get along really well.”

Covid-19 hasn’t just impacted her job, she also ended up adopting a dog at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We fostered her for a bit and then I decided to keep her,” Graham laughed. “It’s nice taking her on walks or to the dog park — except when it’s cold.”