A Passion for Research

November 19, 2012—In her four years on the Hilltop, biology of global health major Sarah Justvig (C’13) has learned that research has a place in every discipline. 

With minors in both Spanish and music, Justvig has a wide range of interests. She plays flute in the Georgetown Orchestra, co-directs the evening mass choir in Dahlgren Chapel, and serves as chair for the Performing Arts Advisory Council.

Inspired by the Jesuit ideal to be a “woman for others,” she also works as a peer advisor for the College and tutors DC high school students in math through the Georgetown University Math and Science Hands-On Enrichment program (GUMSHOE).

“I think so much of what I love about Georgetown is that by giving you the opportunity to have such a well-rounded, liberal arts education, you can really dedicate yourself to your major field of interest—like biology of global health for me—but also have the chance to explore so many other areas and see how they’re interconnected,” Justvig said.

Justvig has loved science since middle school, when she visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Dolan DNA Learning Center. Nestled on her native Long Island, the DNA Learning Center is the world’s first science center devoted entirely to genetics.

Through middle school and high school, Justvig attended summer programs at the learning center, where she returned after her first year at Georgetown to work as a summer teaching assistant.

“[I got] the chance to be able to instill my love of science in the next generation of students. It’s interesting to share that on the other end, with blossoming middle and high school investigators, when I could picture myself in that spot years earlier,” Justvig said. “I was working alongside the teachers who had been my role models in middle school.”

During her junior year, Justvig began conducting research in pediatric oncology at the Lombardi Cancer Center, where she currently works with Dr. Aykut Üren and graduate students to analyze “transcriptional activity” in prostate cancer.

“You have to learn techniques, but then once you learn them, [you must] be able to add your own creative thoughts to problems,” Justvig said. “The research has taught me how to read primary literature as well as how to synthesize information and present it to a wide range of audiences. It’s helped me to develop critical thinking skills [and] to learn how to troubleshoot.”

Although Justvig is working toward a career in medicine, she has come to understand that research is inclusive and interdisciplinary, extending beyond the sciences. Along with core courses in biology and biochemistry, she has studied public policy and bioethics. She has also worked research into her Spanish minor, volunteering for a graduate project about second language acquisition while studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain.

Justvig also serves as co-chair of the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors, a group founded this year by the Georgetown Office of Fellowship, Awards, and Research (GOFAR) and the Gervase Programs. Featuring 12 upperclassmen who have been “significantly involved” in research at Georgetown, the program shows students that research is not limited to laboratories.

“We want to demystify the myth that research is only for science majors,” Justvig said. “The goal of the organization is to promote research on Georgetown’s campus, to help fill in the gaps about research, to encourage participation in opportunities both on- and off-campus.”

Ultimately, the program hopes to bring a center for research to the Hilltop.

“In the meantime, we just want to show students how to get involved, how to contact professors, how to find professors in their fields of interest,” Justvig said. “When you’re really dedicated to something, when you put your passion into something, you can reap so much from it. We want to share that with as many students as possible.”

—Brittany Coombs