A Rewarding Year of Research

Between numerous conferences and multiple research presentations, it has been a busy year for Kristen Barwick – one that has also included a handful of awards. Her most recent accolade will allow her to continue to build on the outstanding research portfolio she has created while at the University of Missouri.

Barwick, a junior biochemistry major from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was recently named a Goldwater Scholar. The Goldwater Scholarship is one of the most prestigious national scholarships in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. A total of 413 scholars were named this year, from an estimated pool of 5,000 college sophomores and juniors. She was one of four Mizzou students to earn the award.

“I honestly wasn’t expecting to earn this honor; it’s such a competitive award,” Barwick said. “It was fun to see my name among the honorees, and it taught me to never count myself out. I was home with my family when I found out and I immediately started jumping up and down. My parents soon realized that I had some really exciting news.”

Barwick interacted with the MU Office of Global and National Fellowships throughout the Goldwater application process.

“It was super valuable to have a group of people who I could communicate with as I was filling out the application,” Barwick said. “They did an amazing job, considering all four of Mizzou’s applicants earned the scholarship. It was helpful to have them in my corner.”

Kristen Barwick

Barwick has worked in the laboratory of Antje Heese, an associate professor of biochemistry and faculty in the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG), since her freshman year. Barwick was connected with Heese through the Freshman Research in Plants (FRIPS) Program, which is funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF). Heese’s lab has a variety of research projects, with a focus on studying plant cell immune responses upon exposure to pathogenic bacteria. Barwick’s research centers on protein purification using affinity chromatography and studying protein interactions between membrane-associated proteins.

“We work with plant immunity and spend a lot of time studying mutants that could potentially affect a plant’s ability to protect itself against pathogenic infections,” Barwick said. “We’re focused on working with bacteria to create a specific antibody to help locate proteins that can be used in further research. It is exciting work, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Barwick enjoyed biology and chemistry as a high school student and developed an interest in research after listening to a professor describe their research endeavors. Mizzou was a perfect fit for her as a Tier 1 research university, and her primary goal was to get into a research laboratory when she first arrived on campus.

“I honestly didn’t even know research was an option until my senior year of high school,” Barwick said. “I was at a career fair and a scientist shared what they were working on. I immediately knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I’m big on asking questions and I love learning. Research gives me the opportunity to do both.”

Last summer, Barwick earned the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), a highly competitive national fellowship that helps undergraduate students conduct research in plant biology. She also received an NSF travel grant to present her work at the Plant Cell Biology International Conference, which was held in Greece this past fall. Barwick was recently awarded the Dudley and Virgie Alexander Scholarship through the CAFNR Undergraduate Research Internship Program, which will allow her to continue her research during the upcoming academic year.

“I love meeting with others to talk about research and to promote our lab,” Barwick said. “Going to conferences and discussing these topics with others is a lot of fun. Plus, communicating about our research is a vital part of the entire experience. We do this work to help the public, and we need to be able to break down our projects and make it assessable to those who we are trying to help. A big part of that is understanding our audience and their needs.”

Barwick, who is pursuing the Honors certificate at MU, plans to continue her work in the Heese lab until graduation. She then plans to attend graduate school to further her research career.

“I love research because of the multiple paths that I can follow,” Barwick said. “I’m interested in several things, which is also a big reason that I chose biochemistry. It’s exciting to explore those avenues. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but Mizzou has set me up well to be successful.”