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UD neuroscience student Jackson Mace works in a lab at Washington University, where he conducted research related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
UD neuroscience student Jackson Mace works in a lab at Washington University, where he conducted research related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Driven to discover: Jackson Mace

Photo courtesy of Jackson Mace

Neuroscience student spends summer in prestigious Amgen Scholars program

Editor’s note: Research, community service, internships and study abroad are part of the summer for University of Delaware students. Follow them in action in our series of profiles and stories, which will be collected on the Driven to Discover website: https://www.udel.edu/home/driven-to-discover/

University of Delaware senior Jackson Mace had been interested for a few years in the highly competitive Amgen Scholars research program, and after his selection and participation during the summer of 2019, he has no doubt the experience was well worth the wait.

Mace, a neuroscience major who has taken part in other undergraduate research opportunities and plans to pursue a doctorate, had his choice this summer of Amgen Scholars programs at two different universities that invited him to participate. He selected Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was one of 15 students accepted from more than 900 applicants across the United States.

“The overall Amgen program at WashU has been phenomenal in terms of outreach and preparing me for my next step involving further schooling,” Mace said as the summer session was wrapping up in early August. “It has done an exceptional job in showing me all the career options I have with a Ph.D. outside of attempting to become a professor.”

From the start of the program on May 28, he said, his days were “super packed” with activities. They typically included an early morning lecture, a weekly biotechnology class focused on drug development and featuring speakers from large pharmaceutical companies as well as from entrepreneurial start-ups, and opportunities to connect with other Amgen scholars and Washington University researchers and advisers. 

Mace made good use of any free time, researching various graduate schools, studying for the GRE and meeting with as many faculty members as possible to talk about his future. He also attended workshops designed to help Amgen Scholars build their resumes and practice their interviewing skills and participated in a symposium in California attended by Amgen Scholars from across the U.S. and Canada.

There was even time for some social activities, including a visit to the St. Louis Zoo and the Gateway Arch, but most of Mace’s summer was spent conducting research with Paul Kotzbauer, a professor of neurology and developmental biology who studies Parkinson’s disease and related disorders.

In the lab, Mace’s research focused on neurodegeneration, the pathology of the brain that occurs with diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. He studied such aspects of neurodegeneration as protein interactions and cell signaling. 

“Dr. Kotzbauer has been a huge help with developing my career goals,” Mace said. “He’s an incredible scientist and physician, and I plan to stay in touch with him.”

The specific summer research project ran into a problem when images of the cells being examined under a microscope showed an unexpected staining, limiting the progress of the work. Despite his disappointment, Mace said, the process—and even the problem itself—taught him a lot about research.

“While not obtaining the results I wanted … it was great to learn to troubleshoot in the daily science realm that researchers experience all the time,” he said.

This summer wasn’t Mace’s first intensive research experience. In 2018, he was a Nemours Summer Undergraduate Research Program intern at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, where he studied cancer therapeutics.

When he left for St. Louis in May, Mace was unsure whether he wanted to pursue a doctorate to prepare for a career in research or a medical degree to work as a clinician. He also considered programs in which graduate students earn both a doctorate and a medical degree.

He said the Amgen Scholars experience has helped him define his goals by making clear the passion he has for research. He said that the program was “specifically made for someone like me” who is engaged in both the research and medical aspects of the life sciences and initially unsure which path to follow.

“I quickly found that I am interested in the research that drives medical-related advancements,” Mace said, in explaining his decision to enroll in a doctoral program rather than medical school. “I hope to focus on therapeutic neuroscience and work closely with industry and hospitals to develop novel ways to overcome neurological diseases.”

About the Amgen Scholars program

The international Amgen Scholars program is funded by the Amgen Foundation with direction and assistance from Harvard University.

Scholars are undergraduates who spend the summer at one of 24 host universities, where they work full time on independent projects under the guidance of a research scientist. The program also provides workshops, career and graduate-school advisement and financial support during the summer.

The Amgen Foundation offers grants and other support to students, teachers and communities. Amgen Inc. is a multinational biopharmaceutical company based in California.

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