Teacher, student, and researcher: Susanna Barrett is a combination of all three

Susanna Barrett SC ’19 works in professor of chemistry Aaron Leconte’s lab at the Keck Science Center, and has recently taken a step back from her research to focus on helping new students. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

Susanna Barrett SC ’19 has always been interested in DNA. This love developed at a young age, when Barrett was able to engage in DNA research as a high school student.

Now a senior at Scripps College, Barrett has spent her time on campus working on her biochemistry major, in addition to doing research. Her love of DNA drew her to associate professor of chemistry Aaron Leconte’s lab at the W.M. Keck Science Department, where she is heavily involved.

Leconte’s lab works to characterize DNA polymerases, enzymes that help extend DNA during replication. These enzymes are significant, due to low error rates and their ability to work rapidly.

This semester, Leconte is on sabbatical and Barrett has taken on a new role in the lab.

“I kind of take a step back from my own research and focus more on teaching new students, which is traditionally [Leconte’s] role,” she said.

As a senior member in the lab group, and someone who had shown interest in teaching, Leconte assigned Barrett and a few other members leadership roles while he was away, which has allowed the lab to continue to operate in his absence.

Barrett stated that part of her job is “to teach new students the techniques that our lab uses, and then kind of prepare them to take on their own individual projects this summer.”

This will allow for a smooth transition when Leconte comes back, as these students will have the tools to work on their own independent projects over the summer.

Barrett has also done research off campus. Last summer she worked in Sarah Slavoff’s lab at Yale University, where she investigated a specific protein involved in the degradation of RNA.

Degradation of RNA is a very important process, as it can regulate mutations that can ultimately contribute to the creation of certain autoimmune diseases and neurological diseases in individuals. This particular protein, DCP2, was the main focus of Barrett’s research this summer.

As someone who has always been interested in research, Barrett is currently applying to graduate school and has spent hours reading papers to familiarize herself with different research projects and programs she may be interested in.

In this process, she has been exposed to more science than ever before, much of which she didn’t know existed. While this was an exciting process for her, she noted that she is most excited about “the ability to run [her] own very long-term project that [she] essentially sees from start to finish.”

Barrett has worked in Leconte’s lab since the fall of 2016, and the project she works on has been ongoing since she started. Graduate school would give her the chance to start something completely new.

Additionally, she explained that graduate school will give her the chance to be very creative in the science that she does, while letting her collaborate with other researchers who are experts in their fields.

Hoping to go into academia after graduating from Scripps and eventually graduate school, Barrett will likely continue teaching and doing research, emulating the role of both instructor and scientist.

Caitlyn Fick is a chemistry major at Scripps College. She enjoys mountains, trees, water, and dogs.

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