Undergraduate research leads to a bright future
Alumnus Mo Siddiq had an ideal undergraduate experience, the kind each science program wishes for its students. He joined Kristi Montooth’s laboratory during his freshman year, after completing her fall Evolution and Diversity class. Thanks to encouragement from Montooth and her team, Siddiq developed a passion for evolutionary genetics in Drosophila, conducting independent research there throughout his four years at IU. Scholarships from the Hutton Honors College, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the department enabled him to conduct research in the Montooth lab year round, even during the summers.
Siddiq took full advantage of his undergraduate research experience, traveling to the Midwest Drosophila Conference to give a poster presentation and earning a Victoria Finnerty Travel Award from the Genetics Society of America. The Finnerty Award enabled him to attend the Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago, where he gave another poster presentation on his work. Siddiq earned a Blatchley Nature Study Club Scholarship and traveled to the Noblesville, Indiana, club to give an oral presentation on his research in the Montooth lab. His honors thesis, “Causes and Consequences of Mitochondrial-Nuclear Incompatibility,” earned him the Honors College Thesis Award.
Siddiq considers his research to be the capstone experience of his undergraduate career, and says, “Without a doubt, the most valuable undergraduate experience I had was working with Kristi Montooth and her graduate student, Luke Hoekstra. My work in the Montooth Lab prepared me quite well for graduate life in several key ways. For one, I feel at home in an intense research environment where new ideas are constantly discussed, critiqued, and refined since this happened daily in the Montooth Lab. In addition, I have a reasonably good feel for organizing and progressing through sets of experiments that culminate in a clear result, and this is largely due to the amount of time I was able to spend interacting with and learning from the graduate students in the Montooth Lab.”
Montooth in turn says that, “Mo is everything one looks for in a young scholar. He’s curious, intelligent, motivated, well-read, creative, confident, and a gifted researcher.” Thanks to his work in the Montooth lab, Siddiq has two peer-reviewed publications to his credit, having coauthored articles that appeared in Genetics and PLoS Genetics.
Siddiq also shared his passion for science by working as an undergraduate teaching assistant (UTA) while at IU. He was a UTA for biology’s two introductory courses: Evolution and Diversity and Biological Mechanisms. Siddiq spent four semesters as a UTA for Genetics, two working with Andrew Zelhoff and two with Brian Calvi. Siddiq’s work earned him biology’s Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Award.
Siddiq also enjoyed being part of a “student body that loved their school and were happy to be there. From the overwhelming number of activities that marked the beginning of every school year, to the electric atmosphere all over Bloomington during basketball season, to the Little 500, the school spirit was always on display. The undergraduate culture of IU has a youthful energy and optimism that I miss quite a bit.”
With this kind of academic experience, it’s not surprising that Siddiq received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award while still an undergraduate (see "Students receive NSF fellowships"). Now pursuing a graduate degree in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, Siddiq has joined Professor Joseph Thornton’s lab. There, he studies the molecular mechanisms of functional evolution in alcohol dehydrogenase of Drosophila. Thornton’s web page wryly notes that Siddiq so thoroughly enjoyed having tiny flies buzzing around his head at IU that he refuses to consider working with any other kind of organism.
“I was fortunate with my experience at IU,” Siddiq says, adding that the University of Chicago is “a big, new pond … and now, to be part of that storied department, to learn new techniques and ways of thinking is awesome. I absolutely love my graduate student experience at the University of Chicago. The plethora of interesting seminars, journal clubs, faculty with diverse research programs, and a passionate graduate student body makes this an amazing place to be. It is also very exciting to be in the Thornton Lab as our research is at the interface of molecular and evolutionary biology, and I am getting exactly the kind of training I wanted.”
Siddiq also enjoys the city and the fact that Chicago has countless things to do. Warmer weather activities involved playing softball, hanging out by the lake, and exploring the numerous restaurants and festivals scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. The bitter winter means that Siddiq and his friends spend their time “cursing the stinging cold, sideways-falling precipitation, and the sun setting at 4 p.m.,” but he adds, “I personally will use this time to tune in and watch the Hoosiers have another great basketball season!”