Undergraduate One Step Closer to Bright FUTURE through SOT Funding


By Marie Bourgeois posted 08-06-2020 16:54


My name is Meghana Venkatesh. I am undergraduate at the University of South Florida (USF), and I had the wonderful opportunity to present at the SOT Southeastern Regional Chapter Meeting in October 2019.

During the meeting, I presented research that identified pesticides in human breast milk that could potentially be harmful to infants. This process involved various stages of centrifuging and vortexing using the QUECHERs method to receive a supernatant. This supernatant was then run through a gas chromatograph so that any pesticides could be identified. Of course, we compared them to textbook values to ensure the proper chemicals were there.

Meghana.jpegPresenting this project at the SOT regional meeting was a great chance to test my skills at presenting while also receiving constructive feedback for any future events where I would present. The judges came around and made comments on how to phrase certain sentences and aspects of a poster to ensure that the main idea is portrayed in the correct light. I remember every comment and have made sure to include them in the presentations I have done since. 

One of the biggest things I remember from this event was that a group of high schoolers came to the USF College of Public Health (COPH) to attend. These students were super inquisitive and had questions ranging from, “What should my major be?” to “How are the science classes structured?” One student even said, “I don’t think I like science classes; what should I do?” I replied that even if you don’t like science in high school, it shouldn’t keep you from the entire subject; there is so much to learn out there! I hope that whatever thoughts I had for them were sufficient and helped them plan for their future.

My name is Marie Bourgeois, and I am a research assistant professor at USF COPH. One of my research foci is lactational transfer of environmental chemicals. I’ve had some very gifted graduate and undergraduate researchers in my lab in the past few years. Meghana immediately distinguished herself as one of the best. She pored over the literature while she was being onboarded. She used any downtime to learn new skills, either by shadowing a graduate student or by working in the Chemistry Core. Using breast milk samples from the Mother’s Milk Bank of Florida, Meghana was able to identify environmental chemicals such as pesticides. Her results were presented at the Southeastern Regional Chapter Meeting in October 2019. Although she was relatively new to conferences, Meghana acquitted herself quite well during the poster presentation. We had planned to attend the 2020 SOT Annual Meeting before COVID-19 intervened. 

Although it would have been difficult, we would have found a way to include Meghana in our research program and stretch a very tight budget to fund her project. Luckily, we were spared that through a very generous grant from the SOT Faculty United for Toxicology Undergraduate Recruitment and Education (FUTURE) Committee. The FUTURE funding covered the supplies for Meghana’s training in the core, her supplies for processing her samples, and other expenses associated with her research. FUTURE funding was a lifesaver!

Note: The next deadline for the Undergraduate Faculty Research Grant is March 26, 2021. Funding of up to $1,500 supports SOT members who mentor undergraduate student research. The goal is to support the professional development of undergraduate toxicology faculty and increase participation of undergraduates in research. SOT also provides funding for Undergraduate Faculty Development Grants to support a professional development experience for an SOT member. That deadline is also March 26, 2021.