Masters Matter: Dr. Andrew Bellemer and Christina Daly, Biology

Dr. Andrew Bellemer, assistant professor of biology, and graduate student Christina Daly discuss the Master of Science in biology at Appalachian State University. This program is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology.


  • Dr. Andrew Bellemer: I'm Andy Bellemer. I am an assistant professor in biology. My specialty is in neurobiology.

    Christina Daly: I'm Christina Daly. I'm getting my master's in biology, with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology.

    AB: Right now we're in Rankin West. This is where my office is and this is also where I do my research. My lab studies the cellular and molecular biology of sensory neurons. And we do that using fruit flies—Drosophila melanogaster—hoping to learn the cellular and molecular mechanisms of how they detect things like changes of temperature. And hopefully, someday, it will allow us to discover things about chronic pain in humans.

    AB: Christina and I don't work on the same research, but I am a member of her thesis committee, and she's going to tell you a little bit about what she does.

    CD: I work in cancer cell invasion. When cancer cells are actually invading, they actually make these finger-like extensions, which act like drills, and that allows them to clear away the surrounding tissue and gain access to other parts of the body. It's actually the spread of cancer that accounts for about 90% of cancer-related deaths. I'm working on characterizing a protein that is responsible for the formation of these structures.

    CD: I work mainly under Dr. Darren Seals. He is my thesis advisor. I have a really strong relationship with him. He's awesome. He's really good at allowing me to formulate my own hypotheses based on my own independent reading. He gives me the tools and the skill set that I need in order to tackle these, but then I can go off and do anything that I want to, independent, which is really great. So, I've really gained a sense of independence throughout this whole study, which is facilitated by all the professors here. They treat the master's students as peers, so we're on first-name basis here, which is really nice. They never look down upon your research or your insights or anything. They see that we do have really important insights and that we are important for this department, which is great.

    AB: Working with the students is... it's been super-positive. That's why I came here, to do that kind of work. All of the research I do, really, is driven by students, and it's really a closely collaborative relationship, but also a really close mentoring relationship. When you're working in a research lab, there is a almost infinite amount of experiments that can be done, and no one has enough time to do everything. But when you get a really tight, collaborative relationship, where people are bouncing ideas off each other, people are helping each other out with experiments, you can get a lot more done and you really end up with these really amazing scientific insights sometimes that just come out of working closely together. So that's sort of the collaborative aspect, but then I work really closely with all of my students individually. I make sure that I have an half-hour to an hour every week blocked out for each one of my students, so that even if we don't meet every week, they have time that is their time to come in to talk about recent findings, in their work or in the published literature, to plan out their next experiments, to interpret their data, to work on drafts of fellowship applications or conference posters or talks or papers that they're working on. I like to think that I come up with important scientific ideas, but those sorts of things are the most important things I do. Because it's really my students that are driving the research forward.

    CD: I absolutely love App. How there's this connection that you get between the students and the professors. They actually do care more about fostering your own experiences and your own skill set and they do care a lot about what you are accomplishing personally, which is really great.

    AB: The difference between App State, whose graduate school is primarily master's granting, and a much larger research institution that is primarily in the business of granting PhDs, Duke, for instance, is, at a place like Duke, in the end, the bottom line is going to be bringing in grant money, being highly productive at research. Which we are here. We bring in grant money and we're highly productive. But, that's not the bottom line. The bottom line is that I am a very effective and dedicated mentor to my students, that my students make progress themselves and that they finish the program with excellent training in a way that it's not always possible at a place where the bottom line is money, in the end. So I came to a place like that because that's what I wanted to do. In the end, I wanted to be valued for my ability to mentor students, not my ability to necessarily bring in a ton of grant money.