Dr. Autumn Sutherlin

Associate professor of chemistry/biochemistry

Analyzing protein found in bacteria could be tedious lab work - or it could be a ticket to the best graduate schools in the country.

For Jeffrey Knight, the long hours he spent in an ACU chemistry lab, conducting research with Dr. Autumn Sutherlin, proved to be the advantage he needed when he applied to graduate school two years ago.

"I was accepted to every school I applied to," he said.

He chose the University of Texas at Austin where he is now a second-year graduate student in biochemistry.

Jeffrey is quick to add that he's not bragging on himself, but rather ACU and its faculty.

Dr. Autumn Sutherlin
Dr. Autumn Sutherlin

ACU students get 'the best opportunities'

"That's not to toot my own horn," he said, "but rather to brag on ACU and the effort they put into giving their students the best opportunities."

While at ACU, Jeffrey was one of several students working with Sutherlin on research she started several years ago as a graduate student at Purdue University, where she earned her doctorate in biochemistry.

"It's been part of my life for something like seven years," she said.

The research involves mapping a specific protein found in specific bacteria with the hopes of finding out how the protein works. If that research is successful, it could lead to development of an antibiotic to fight the bacteria, Sutherlin said.

The ACU students are collaborating with students and faculty at Purdue on the project.

"It's kind of exciting for them," she said. "When things are working great, it's really exciting."

Sutherlin said her students understand they are getting a good deal at ACU. Not every university provides undergraduates with the research opportunities they get at ACU.

Prepared for the rigors of grad school

Jeffrey, one of her best former students, has seen that firsthand.

"Here at UT Austin, many undergraduates get their 'research opportunities' mostly by cleaning glassware and the lab," he said. 

His experiences at ACU also prepared Jeffrey for the rigors of graduate school.

"I fared much better than most of my peers," he said. "I believe ACU's rigorous curriculum helped prepare me for the work necessary to do well in classes."

The research experience that students get at ACU also serves another purpose. Sutherlin said sometimes students discover that spending their life conducting scientific research isn't what they want after all.

"It's a valuable experience for them either way," she said.

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