November 12, 2009
Lees-McRae senior helps discover and classify new species

Lees-McRae College senior Michael Connor spent his summer at the University of Georgia helping discover and classify a new species of archaea as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates.

A Chapel Hill, North Carolina, native, Connor is set to graduate in May 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in pre-health biology and a minor in mathematics. He is a three-year letterman of the men's track and field team and was also on the residence life staff. Connor is a member of the fraternity Beta Omega Kappa in which he served as vice-president and secretary. To round out his achievements, Connor has also made the Dean's List for four semesters.

Each year the National Institute of Health (NIH) funds research projects through major universities across the country. Roughly one to two hundred applicants apply to each program, and generally ten to twelve people are selected to participate. Connor was lucky enough to receive one of those coveted spots in the Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Georgia this past summer.

Connor spent nine weeks helping to discover and classify a new species of archaea, which in layman's terms, is the predecessor to bacteria - the closest thing to the root of the tree of life. During this time he was given free housing in a residence hall at the University, had his travel expenses paid, and was given a stipend for his work.

In the spring of 2010, Connor's work will be published as the supporting evidence for why the archaea they discovered should be classified as a new species.

"The experiences I had working at the University of Georgia are priceless. I learned about formulizing research and analyzing data. I learned about the nuances in research, the amount of repetition and the amount of time that must be spent making sure everything is done perfectly.

"This program really helped to further my interest in this field and helped me decide what I specifically want to research. It also opened my eyes as to how many areas there are to research. After going to seminars and observing my supervisors, I now have a better understanding of the difficulty of graduate and Ph.D. programs," said Connor.

As if that was not enough excitement for the 21-year-old, Connor received a grant and is currently working on a project funded through the North Carolina Biotechnology Granting Agency.

Lees-McRae College biology professor Dr. Christine Spencer is the primary investigator for this study. She and Connor will be working with Carolina Hemlock trees to determine whether there is a genetic correlation between the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid infestation and survivability.

So how will Connor top these two exciting adventures in research?

"I have a lot of ambitions. I have applied to be a Rhodes Scholar. I have currently made it past the first phase and am now waiting to hear if I received an interview. I am also applying to graduate schools such as Emory, Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Houston Medical School and several others. As a long-term goal I would like to get my Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics. I want to be involved in researching next generation antibiotics and vaccines.

"The best advice I can give to students in my field is to apply for programs. It never hurts to try. The worst thing that can happen is that you will get turned down. Push yourself to get good grades, because any person you compete against will be just as smart or smarter than you. Take the time to make a list of potential schools, research them, speak with your advisor, and contact the school. Networking is one of the most beneficial things a student can do," said Connor.

Media Contact:

Blaine Hansen  |  Vice President of Strategic Planning and Effectiveness
Tel: 828.898.8838  |  Email: