Undergraduate research key to Stafford's acceptance to Johns Hopkins

Sept. 17, 2013

Growing up in Houston, Katelyn Stafford knew that she wanted to someday be a scientist, but never envisioned that she would be where she is today. Stafford recently completed her second year of a PhD program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. However, just two years ago, Stafford was conducting research and completing an undergraduate degree at Sam Houston State University.

“From early on I knew I wanted to do research,” Stafford said. “But I didn’t know I wanted to do research that would make a difference. During my time at SHSU I figured that out thanks in part to my friends and professors.”

Katelyn Stafford, SHSU Alumna

Stafford graduated with highest honors and two undergraduate degrees; one in criminal justice and one in chemistry. After graduation she had planned to work for the DEA focusing on forensic toxicology and look to attend graduate school in the future. That was before Dr. DeLisa Fairweather and the second dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health contacted her and encouraged her to apply. She did so and was quickly admitted. Now she is doing her PhD research in Fairweather’s laboratory.

“After I got in they told me that my scores, grades and where I came from didn’t matter because I set myself apart with all of the research I had done,” Stafford said. “I was really engaged with learning and finding something out and that’s what a PhD is about.”

At SHSU, Stafford began researching during her sophomore year and continued until graduation. She worked closely with Dr. Ilona Petrikovics helping discover a biomarker for cyanide poisoning and had the chance to accompany Petrikovics at an international conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Additionally, Stafford attended more than five other research conferences while at SHSU including conferences in Salt Lake City, Seattle and El Paso, Texas. Since being at Johns Hopkins she has visited New York City, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Florida and Canada to present her current findings of her research on myocarditis.

“I knew there were opportunities for undergrads to get involved in research,” Stafford said. “But, I don’t think people realized there are all of these sources to help you go to conferences, present your research, and get feedback.”

Stafford was proactive in finding funding for these opportunities. She found what organizations her professors were a part of and used department and college resources available to all students to find the means necessary to accomplish her goals.

“I wouldn’t be at Johns Hopkins if it wouldn’t have been for all of the conferences I was able to attend and all of the research I was able to do. What I did at SHSU led to me to where I am today,” Stafford said. “SHSU gave me the opportunity to get into Hopkins, and Hopkins has given me to opportunity to go anywhere and work anywhere.”

It is clear that the support Stafford received from faculty and administration during her time at SHSU has impacted her life. The bond and relationship she developed was evident when she received her degrees at graduation ceremonies.

“When I walked across the stage for graduation I got hugs from everyone because I was able to interact and get to know them,” Stafford said. “They were all very supportive in helping me forward my career. They were all so passionate about my future and bent over backwards to help me. Looking back, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people at SHSU.”


Writer and contact: Andrew Devey

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