Life Altering Biometrics and Infectious Diseases

Ian Jacobs’22 had a general interest in biology when he arrived at Beloit College. As a sports fan, he also loved statistics and data analysis. A biometrics class in his third semester inspired him to bring his interests together to study infectious diseases.

Ian Jacobs'22 Ian Jacobs’22

Ian Jacobs’22 arrived at Beloit College interested in biology. Additionally, as a self-described sports fan, numbers fascinated him. He’d purchased a notebook as a kid to record the stats of his beloved Cleveland Browns. And as a lacrosse player, he wanted to continue to play in college, something he could do at Beloit while pursuing academics.

Ian would major in biochemistry at Beloit, without initially knowing to what purpose. That’s when a biostatistics class taught by associate dean Yaffa Grossman in his third semester came in. Biometric data play a big role in understanding the development and spread of viral and infectious diseases, and Ian identified a potential role he could play.

“I really enjoyed the homework for the class, given my interest in statistics and the calculus I’d taken in high school. It was fun interpreting the data and applying statistics to solve biological problems.”

Beloit’s Pakula Biomedical Scholars Program, which pairs students with faculty doing biomedical research, would confirm Ian’s future career direction. Following his graduation from Beloit in May 2022, he will pursue graduate studies in biostatistics.

“The COVID-19 pandemic hit partway through my fourth semester at Beloit. The pandemic really disrupted my plan to do research in the coming summer through the National Science Foundation’s undergraduate research experience program. Fortunately, a Beloit College friend told me about the Pakula program. Once I looked into it, I realized it was perfect for me. Plus, the more I learned about it, the more I loved it.”

The Pakula Biomedical Scholars Program paired Ian with biologist Helen Werner. Together, they spent eight weeks conducting a meta analysis of the published data on skeletal remains to better understand the impact of tuberculosis on the spine. The goal was to challenge the assumption that bone lesions in themselves provide evidence of tuberculosis by looking instead for a biomarker.

“The Pakula Program offered me a trial run with research in biostatistics. And presenting the research at the college’s symposium and at the Midwest Consortium for Math and Science conference gave me experience with that side of a biostatistical researcher’s life,” he shares. The research process continues: Ian and Dr. Werner are working on a manuscript for publication.

With these experiences, he feels better prepared for graduate studies.

Preparation for one’s future while in college is not limited to academic studies, however.

Ian Jacobs'22 playing lacrosse for the Beloit Bucs Ian Jacobs'22 playing lacrosse for the Beloit BucsAs a member of Beloit’s lacrosse team, Ian not only played a sport he truly loves, but formed friendships with students both older and younger than he. In this sense, the cancellation of in-person competition turned out to be an asset, as in lieu of playing in competition in his junior year, Ian and his lacrosse teammates spent more time together studying in the library. “I probably would not have gotten to know the sophomore and senior players as well as I did if not for that,” he relates. In fact, the dual interests of Beloit’s lacrosse players in both the sport and academics made Beloit stand out when he applied.

“Lacrosse is often a very frat-like sport at a lot of colleges. But Beloit’s team members are really eclectic and serious about academics. That was attractive to me.”

Ian has also become far more analytical and a better problem solver thanks to a campus job as an AV tech assistant. Since starting in the position in August 2018, he has worked hundreds of events in all sorts of spaces on the Beloit College campus. He notes that, “a lot of the time, the people scheduling events don’t really know what they need in terms of AV technology. Plus, the equipment can be finicky. I’ve learned how to troubleshoot and make events sound and look good while staying in the background.” By being present at the events, he’s also been exposed to things he might otherwise have ignored. “I’m not sure I would have gone to as many music concerts and on-campus talks as I would have if it were not for the job.”

A further bonus: The problem-solving Ian has learned will be invaluable no matter his exact personal and professional future.

March 14, 2022

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