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Student Highlights: Alexes Merritt (SFS'23)

Alexes Merritt is a junior in the School of Foreign Service majoring in Global Health and Biotechnology and minoring in English, on the pre-med track.

Experience in Research:

Alexes feels that “going to the university and not getting actively involved in the intellectual community is like learning how to cook, but never making a single meal.” She first became aware of the research opportunities available on campus at a Foundations in Biology lab, where teaching assistants talked about how they were involved with research beyond the classroom. She wanted to do the same — apply classroom knowledge in significant ways to produce new knowledge that can benefit society. Driven by her interest in disease ecology and epidemiology, she read several papers to familiarize herself with what this field has to offer through dashboards. She admired Dr. Shweta Bansal, a professor in the Department of Biology, and was excited to learn about the Bansal lab’s important work on spatiotemporal, layer understanding of diseases, so she applied for a position. Even though she lacked substantial research experience, Alexes told Dr. Bansal she would work hard and learn the skills needed  to become a productive member of the team. In September 2020, she joined the Bansal lab to investigate the spatiotemporal landscape of COVID-19 vaccinations and the equity of vaccine distribution. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of vaccines, and recently Alexes researched under-vaccinated clusters for a CNN article, funded by the National Institutes of Health. She notes that “working and learning about global issues is exactly why I chose to go to Georgetown. Working on this project has been a way of using this knowledge to help others at a time where we all need a little help.” Alexes also works in maintaining a county level vaccination dashboard for the United States along with her team at the lab. 

Reflection:

Alexes is grateful to have a community of people who share her interest in improving the world, and she appreciates the distinct methods of learning offered by participating in research. She absorbs knowledge from her mentors and peers on a daily basis, gaining experiences she would never have in a classroom setting.  Her experience in research allows her to cultivate skills that she will carry with her beyond her college years, such as learning about professional statistical techniques, watching the scientific process first-hand, and effective communication. Nevertheless, she admits it can be hard to balance working in the lab and keeping up with her classes, especially when she is so passionate about the research she is doing. She now treats doing research like a reward,—she will only engage with it after completing her schoolwork. “You’re a student first, so those pre-med requirements and other courses are the priority,” Alexes says, “Research will always be an option down the road.”

Check out Alexes’ works through the following links:

https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/08/health/undervaccinated-clusters-covid-risk/index.html

https://www.vaccinetracking.us/about.html

https://www.georgetown.edu/news/georgetown-lab-finds-covid-19-transmission-variant-risk-higher-in-clusters-of-unvaccinated-u-s-counties/