Student Research - Providence College Blogs

Slow and Steady: Science Takes Time

Posted by: on April 16, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

stephenrSince the beginning of the semester, we [some biology students and Father Nic Austriaco] have been working on two research projects with yeast. We are continuing with the work I wrote about last time, in which we are attempting to see how aneuploidy, or the possession of an incorrect number of chromosomes, affects programmed cell death in yeast. As a part of this project, we are still working to knock out the gene YCA1, which is responsible for yeast programmed cell death, from our aneuploid cells. This work has proven to be difficult despite multiple attempts under different conditions. Father Austriaco has been helping us work through the work, but progress has been slow.

Since I started doing research after freshman year, I have come to realize that research almost always seems to proceed slowly like this project, but I have also learned that even the frustrating times are a worthwhile learning experience. In addition to this research, Alexandra Chasse ’17 and I have just begun another project, in which we are attempting to force yeast to clump together using molecular biology. Doing so would, in a sense, make the yeast multicellular. To do so, we will introduce the gene encoding the human protein E-cadherin to our yeast. This protein helps hold human epithelial cells together, so the hope is that it will be able to hold yeast together in the same way. If this project is successful, we will examine any physiological changes in the yeast once they begin clumping.

In a few days, I will travel with Matthew Sanborn ’17 and students from other research labs at PC to the Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) at Niagara University to deliver an oral presentation about the research that our lab has been doing. I’m excited to get to give a presentation like this for the first time, but I still have some work to do on it before we leave. I’ll give on update on how the conference went once we return.

Until next time,


Since the beginning of the semester, we [some biology students and Father Nic Austriaco] have been working on two research... MORE

Finding Meaning in Poetry and Taking a Walk to Work

Posted by: on April 15, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

wallace-graveHi everyone – I have been meeting with my thesis advisor, Dr. Bill Hogan, on a weekly basis to discuss my work and to gauge my progress on this project. He has been a huge help throughout the process. I have found it extremely beneficial to bounce my ideas off of him, to engage with his own theories about Wallace Stevens’ poetry, and to have a second set of eyes on my writing. Dr. Hogan is also interested in Stevens, but he is more focused on the poet’s treatment of nature, so it has been fruitful for me to join my own analysis with his fresh perspective in our collaborative discussions.

Since my last blog post, I have narrowed the scope of my independent research project slightly. The crux of my thesis paper will involve my engagement with (and analysis of) three major poems that trace the entirety of Wallace Stevens’ literary career. The first, “Sunday Morning,” is from Stevens’ earliest collection, Harmonium, and it is one of his most well-known works. “Sunday Morning” is concerned with finding meaning and beauty in a world devoid of religion. In my paper, I will argue that Stevens’ attempt to find a replacement for institutionalized belief is a fundamental religious impulse and a paradoxical movement toward God. The second major work that I will be grappling with is a mid-career moment of Stevens, which is titled “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction.” Many critics consider this to be Stevens’ opus–his “Wasteland” poem per se.

In this vastly difficult literary masterpiece, the poet simultaneously uses images and abstractions to establish his views on reality, the imagination, perception, and the power of poetry. Although there are religious topics to be explored in “Notes,” it is mostly relevant to my project because in it, Stevens tries to discover a supreme fiction that is capable of replacing religion. And while Stevens never arrived at a unifying truth at the center of reality in his poetry, he did find God at the end of his life, and I believe that the poet’s striving toward real knowledge in “Notes” can be seen as a precursor to his Catholic conversion. The last poem that I plan to analyze in-depth is the one of the last poems that Wallace Stevens ever wrote–“Of Mere Being”. In true Stevensian fashion, the poet still uses vivid images and rare abstractions to convey his perception of reality even this late in his life. However, I will argue that “Of Mere Being” is one of Stevens’ most explicitly religious poems. The language and the images that the poet employs suggest a readiness to accept God’s grace and to be welcomed into the fold. Of course, I will be using other poems from Harmonium, Transport to Summer, The Rock, and Late Poems as ancillary ammo for my argument. But, as of right now, the three aforementioned poems will form the basis of my thesis project.

I now know that my thesis will be focused on Wallace Stevens’ sacramental vision of the world as seen in his poetry. I will analyze Stevens’ poetry in the context of the Catholic sacraments and I will explain how the poet’s goal is analogous to that which takes place in a sacramental rite. Just like a Catholic priest uses words to turn material objects into divine vessels, so too did Wallace Stevens try to uncover a supreme fiction in the world through his poetic language.

I plan on visiting Stevens’ Hartford home in late April so that I can take his walk to work on a sunny day. I think that by taking a day late in the semester to explore Stevens’ city and to see his favorite natural conservancy (Elizabeth Park), it will allow me to appreciate all of the work that I have done so far and it will help me to conclude my independent research project. I plan to enjoy this day with my girlfriend and my mom, which will make the experience even more special.

Hi everyone – I have been meeting with my thesis advisor, Dr. Bill Hogan, on a weekly basis to discuss... MORE

Meet a Few of Our Research Students

Posted by: on February 19, 2015   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Tom McHugh '15

Tom McHugh ’15
Major: English
Minor: Business Studies

Hi everyone – I’m Tom McHugh and I am working on an Honors Independent Study Project that investigates the religious development of the modern American poet, Wallace Stevens, throughout his life, as seen in his poetry. I am personally interested in this project for a number of reasons, but mostly because I find the poetry of Stevens to be fantastic, and his life story to be fascinating.

Stevens worked as a vice-president at The Hartford insurance company for most of his professional career, but he was still able to write some of the best and most well-loved poetry of the 20th century. By all accounts, Wallace Stevens was a good worker and a fair boss, but his talents surely did not stop with the rational, bureaucratic part of his mind. Stevens’ true genius was contained in his wildly creative imagination as seen in his poems. Although he was an agnostic for the majority of his adult life, Stevens converted to Catholicism on his deathbed in a stunning change of heart.

I hope to find some signs of the poet’s longing for religious belief in his early, middle, and later works leading up to conversion. These discoveries will allow me to theorize about what this pivotal moment means about Stevens’ life and what it can teach his reader. As an English major who plans on attending law school in the next few years, I too try to tap into both the rational and creative sides of my brain. And, I am a Catholic, young adult who struggles to maintain my faith as a college senior and as a person of the world, so I hope to grow personally by working on this project.

For the rest of the semester I will be reading Wallace Stevens’ poetic collections Harmonium (1932), Transport to Summer (1947), and Opus Posthumous (1957), along with the Dictionary of National Biography. I also will be supplementing this primary reading with some of Stevens’ other writings and letters, such as The Necessary Angel (1951) and The Contemplated Spouse (2006). Finally, I will be visiting Stevens’ house in Hartford, CT at some point during the semester in order to take his historic three-mile walk to work and experience what the poet did on a daily basis.

Check back soon!


Stephen Rogers '15Stephen Rogers ’15
Major: Biology

Hi – My name is Stephen Rogers, and I’m a here at PC originally from Baldwin, New York. I am a biology major and plan on applying to medical school at the end of this year. I conduct research in Father Nicanor Austriaco’s lab, which primarily studies programmed cell death in yeast. The project that I am working on with a few other students is focused on aneuploid yeast, which is yeast that possesses an incorrect number of chromosomes. Aneuploidy occurs in humans as well and is responsible for a number of genetic disorders, including Down Syndrome. Our group is attempting to better understand the molecular mechanisms of programmed cell death in aneuploid cells using yeast as a model organism.

I look forward to writing more about our research throughout the semester.



Dani Waldron '15Dani Waldron ’15
Major: Health Policy and Management
Hi! My name is Danielle (Dani) Waldron, and I am a senior Health Policy and Management (HPM) major and pre-med student here at PC. I also work as a quality improvement intern at PACE Organization of Rhode Island, an innovative care center for elderly persons. At school, I am on the Habitat for Humanity executive board, enjoy lots of art and ceramics classes, participate in Special Olympics events, and lead retreats through the Campus Ministry Center. One of my favorite activities on campus, however, is my work as undergraduate research assistant to Dr. Bob Hackey, the director of the HPM program.

Dr. Hackey, Dr. Todd Olszewski (also of the HPM Department), and I recently co-authored the “New Hampshire: Baseline Report, A State Level Field Network Study of the Implementation of the Affordable Care Act.” The report is a part the ACA Implementation Research Network Project, sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute of Government State University of New York, The Brookings Institution, and Fels Institute of Government University of Pennsylvania. We began working on the project when I was a junior and from the beginning both professors acknowledged and treated me as a co-author–an equal part of the research team. Me…a co-author at age 20-21?!? I was beyond stoked and put my all into the project immediately! The report, which explores NH’s experiences implementing the exchange and other aspects of the ACA, is only the first portion of our research project. Throughout the semester we are going to be working on a follow-up study and interviewing policymakers, hospital organizations, and others in the state.

In addition, last fall, I submitted a PC Institutional Research Board application and received approval for my independent study research project on insurance and access to care in Rhode Island. My friend and fellow senior HPM major, Alex Rawson, is helping me with the project, and Dr. Olszewski is my independent study advisor for the study. We are starting the experiment in February, so I will update you all on the project itself as the semester goes on!

Lastly, I have begun working on two other pieces. The first is about my unique experience as an undergraduate co-author (rather than a traditional assistantship) along with two professors who hold their Ph.D.’s, and the second piece is on my experience taking the reins on my own IRB approved and independent research as an undergrad.

I am so grateful for these research opportunities here at PC, as they directly shaped my future plans and goals. I am currently applying to Ph.D. programs in health policy and would like to continue researching the ACA, insurance and access to care, as well as reform in elderly healthcare in the future.

Anyways, that’s me! I will keep you posted on these projects as my final semester at PC (YIKES!) rolls on!


Tom McHugh ’15 Major: English Minor: Business Studies Hi everyone – I’m Tom McHugh and I am working on an... MORE