Parasitology research – Cicero native Frank Soveg, a REACH research grant scholar, will graduate from SIU Carbondale during commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 11. Soveg began advanced research in a zoology lab his freshman year, first as a student assistant and progressing to his own research in parasitology. He presented his research at SIU Carbondale’s annual Undergraduate Research Forum, and the annual meeting of the Southeastern Society of Parasitologists where Soveg received the Ciordia-Porter-Stewart Undergraduate Student Paper Award. (Photo by Russell D. Bailey)
May 08, 2013
Interest in parasites leads to graduate’s award
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Frank Soveg knew from his freshman year at Southern Illinois University Carbondale that he wanted to work in a laboratory studying parasites.
When Soveg, a Cicero native, graduates on Saturday, May 11, with a degree in zoology from the College of Science, he will graduate with plenty of laboratory experience. His immediate plans are to work as a laboratory technician as further preparation for graduate school. He pictures himself continuing to study parasites, but he knows from experience that new knowledge can lead to new paths.
Commencement ceremonies for the College of Science are at 9 a.m. at the SIU Arena. Additional commencement information is at commencement.siu.edu/.
Soveg remembers going into his backyard in search of insects, snails, and slugs when he was a small boy. Those excursions were a first-hand lesson in biodiversity, which he learned about from nature education programming on television. When he took an introductory zoology course as a freshman at SIU Carbondale, it all came together for him.
His professor for that first year was Francisco Jimenez-Ruiz, assistant professor of zoology and an expert in parasitology and animal diversity. Soveg knew that Jimenez maintained a parasitology laboratory where various forms of research are always ongoing. He wanted in on that research, and he told his professor so after class one day.
“It was only a short time before Dr. Jimenez contacted me and I began working in his lab,” he said. “Until the end of my junior year, I worked on a wood wasp project.”
Soveg learned plenty about wood wasps, but he also learned how to research -- how to stay on task, to achieve large goals by setting a series of small ones, to consider alternative solutions.
“These things will be useful in a student’s professional life, not just in research,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez said he routinely accepts students in his lab once they express interest in committing to a research project. The mentoring relationship helps him learn more about the students’ strengths and interests, and he can sometimes suggest independent research that suits the student. In Soveg’s case, it was flatworms. Soveg applied for and received a REACH (Research-Enriched Academic Challenge) grant to study the evolutionary history of an obscure group of flatworms, the Rhopalias trematodes. REACH is one of several undergraduate research grants available at SIU Carbondale.
“Prior to this study, the evolutionary history of Rhopalias with respect to other trematodes had never been investigated, so the research would be novel,” Soveg explained. It is also important: the Rhopalias can affect both wild and domestic animals, and Soveg’s research contributes to understanding the parasites’ ability to infect a wide range of organisms.
Another advantage to this particular study: availability of the parasite. Soveg noted that other researchers in his lab had already collected specimen of Rhopalias as part of their surveys of parasites in marsupials.
And the parasites look wicked, at least under a microscope.
“(They have) a pair of anterior tentacles armed with spines that they use to anchor themselves on the host’s intestinal wall,” Soveg said. No other known trematode is similarly armed.
REACH scholars participate in a research poster presentation session at SIU as part of the requirements of their grant. For Soveg, the presentation was a warm up for presenting his research at a parasitology conference, the annual meeting of the Southeastern Society of Parasitologists. His research and presentation of it earned him the Ciordia-Porter-Stewart Undergraduate Student Paper Award.
Soveg credits his award to his SIU experience.
“Presenting a poster and preparing a talk are similar in that both require you to convey your research to an audience in a clear and succinct manner,” Soveg said. “Sure, the information may make sense to you in your own head, but the real challenge is being able to explain your research to individuals from different backgrounds in a way that is understandable."
Soveg said if he could advise a new freshman, he would urge that student to take advantage of the accessibility of SIU professors, to connect with them, and to do what a college student ought to do -- try new things.
“If you are a science student, just get into the lab,” he said. “You’ll know right away if you enjoy researching. Even if you’d rather research something else, you’ll know right away if research is what you want to do. I feel like I really had the opportunity at SIU.”