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Research opportunities lead to Ph.D. program in biochemistry

March 23, 2016
KOKOMO, Ind. — Failure is always an option in a science lab.

Venturing into unknown areas of research, and the risk involved, attracts Kortany Baker to a career in the lab. She’s taking the first step toward her chosen career, earning one of the first biochemistry degrees awarded at Indiana University Kokomo.

“I like the idea of being part of discovering new things,” said Baker, 28, from Kokomo. “Science is mostly failure. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn. When you do a lab in class, if you follow the directions, you will get the result expected. Working in a research lab, creating our own experiments is more fulfilling to me. There is so much more to figure out.”

After graduating in May, she’ll continue her education in biochemistry doctorate program. This accomplishment is something she never thought would happen when she enrolled at IU Kokomo, as an older student with two young daughters.

“I didn’t think it was possible for me, but my professors convinced me otherwise,” she said. “They are very invested in their students. I could never have done it without them. I talk to many of them daily about my future, and they helped me with my applications and interviews.”

Christian Chauret, dean of the School of Sciences, said her admission is a positive reflection on Baker’s work, and on IU Kokomo.

“We began the biochemistry program in 2012, and four years later, we have a student admitted to a Ph.D. program at a Big 10 university,” he said. “Kortany is a full-time student and a full-time mom, and worked hard for this achievement. I am very proud of her.”

He also noted that Kasem Kasem, professor of chemistry, and Hisako Masuda, assistant professor of biochemistry, each played a role in Baker’s success.

Her work with Kasem drew the attention of graduate school interviews. She’s published one paper with him, and has another accepted for publication.

“One of the professors was impressed with how much research I had done with Dr. Kasem,” she said, adding that Kasem’s recommendation letter “blew him away.”

She also assists Masuda in her work finding bacteria that can break down plastics in landfills. Masuda invited Baker to attend professional conferences with her, which is what confirmed her career choice.

“I loved being around the other scientists,” she said. “Dr. Kasem had put the idea of graduate school in my head. After that first conference with Dr. Masuda, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to continue this kind of work after I finished my bachelor’s degree.”

She spends about 10 hours per week in the labs, on top of her classes and a job at Applebee’s.

Baker noted there were 150 to 200 applicants for about 12-16 available positions in her Ph.D. program. She’s been offered a graduate teaching assistantship that will pay her tuition.

“I’ve always loved science,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to end up in a lab doing health-related research, where my work will help with some kind of disease. That’s what will make me happy.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 03/23/2016