Sarah Miller had two interests in her last couple of high school years. She did well in science but also in reading and writing. She pursued the latter first after she felt intimidated by Texas Tech classmates who came from high schools that heavily stressed science and math. She got a bachelor’s of arts degree in Humanities in 2013, while minoring in French.
She taught English in France for a year. That helped build belief in herself, and she returned to Tech in 2016 to pursue science. In May she earned a bachelor’s of science degree after working as an undergraduate researcher in a lab where she studied how cells regulate the production of insulin. That led to her being named the 2019 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher.
“I was really surprised, there are hundreds of talented researchers at Texas Tech. I don’t feel like I did anything extraordinary. I just felt like I was interested in the lab work. I was learning a lot. I made a lot of mistakes. So yeah, I was really surprised.”
And Miller, who is driven by her curiosity, isn’t resting on two undergraduate degrees. She’s now pursuing a PhD in biomedical sciences at Tech’s Health Sciences Center.
She trusted the judgment of her mentor, Andrey Karamyshev, an assistant professor in the center’s Department of Cell Biology and Biochemistry, when he encouraged her to bypass a master’s degree.
“I think the people who are able to do that and myself- it’s because undergraduate research was sort of the principal thing we did. And we got a lot of experience from that. So I think that’s definitely why. And when I started out, I thought I would get a bachelor’s and then apply to a master’s program which requires a Bachelor of Science. And then go on to do a PhD, you know maybe five years from now.”
Miller, who did her undergraduate research through Tech’s Center for Integration of STEM Education and Research, says she was a different student when she returned for her BS degree.
“I always was sort of shy and stayed back in groups for my first degree, but when I came back I was just sort of assumed this position of a leader and organizing people in my group and getting task lists going and things accomplished. I think more driven and focused. Time management definitely.”
She wasn’t happy in the first undergraduate research lab through CISER. She says it wasn’t a good match.
“Fit in a laboratory is so important. It really is. You know what you’re interested in. All that is so so important. And sometimes as an undergraduate you won’t find that fit with the first lab or the first two labs. You know that’s why it’s really important that you interview the professor and you get to talk to the other people in the lab. I think something that helped me was that I was interested in the research and so I just started asking questions about that right away. And that kind of initiative I think is really important.”
Miller says she still wrestled with self-doubt about studying science after returning from France. But her experiences and her boyfriend’s approach to life made the difference when she started her BS degree. He, she says, doesn’t care what people think about him and goes for what is right for his life.
“I was sort of inspired by that. To do something that I felt was true to where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do and what I wanted to learn. He helped me a lot in that regard.”
Miller says that right now she isn’t planning on a career as a university professor. She’d like to work in industry and be on the front lines of discovery.
“Being part of a team that include mathematicians and chemists and biologists to try to develop drugs or discover new things like talk discovery.”