Undergraduate Research Spotlight, Holland Kaplan

Kaplan (right) in Canberra, Australia preforming research on platypus sex chromosomes.
Kaplan (right) in Canberra, Australia preforming research on platypus sex chromosomes.

Undergraduate Researcher doesn’t even begin to credit the work of Holland Kaplan ’13, biology and philosophy major. Since before setting foot on the A&M campus Kaplan has been expanding her mind through research. Her passion for education has taken her from Australia to Portugal to New Zealand and across the United States. I recently interviewed Kaplan to learn more about her, her work, and her future.

What is your major/class year?
I am double majoring in philosophy and biology and will be graduating in May.

How did you get started in Undergraduate Research?
My first experience in undergraduate research was in biology on platypus genomics and genetics. The cover of Nature in May 2008 had a huge platypus on it, and it announced that the platypus genome had been sequenced. I read this article and some others about platypus genetics and was hooked. Platypuses have ten sex chromosomes, which changes all kinds of things about the way they express genetic information. I emailed the lead author of the paper and was invited to spend a summer at Australian National University conducting research under Dr. Jennifer Graves, a prominent platypus researcher. The following summer I continued my platypus research at the University of Connecticut with one of Dr. Graves’ previous post-docs, Dr. Rachel O’Neill. When I got to Texas A&M, I became more interested in interdisciplinary research regarding medical ethics. I had previously taken a class with Dr. Mike LeBuffe, and he agreed to be my advisor for my thesis applying Kantian ethics to end-of-life situations in children.

What is your project about?
My most recent research culminated in an undergraduate research scholars thesis entitled “Pediatric Euthanasia: The End of Life as an End in Itself?” In my thesis, I present background on pediatric euthanasia, expand on some key ideas in Kantian philosophy, develop a model for decision making in pediatric end-of-life situations, and systemically apply ideas of Kantian ethics to my model. It is my hope that a model similar to the one I developed can be used to articulate and prioritize relevant concerns during these types of decision-making processes.

How has this project changed or solidified your views of the importance of undergraduate research?
I certainly want to be involved in research in medical school and in my career, so I think my research experience as an undergraduate will prove to be valuable. It gave me an opportunity to engage with the material I was learning in my classes instead of just passively absorbing it. I was also lucky to be able to compare and contrast my research experiences in science and in the humanities, both of which I enjoyed and will probably engage in in the future.

How was your experience presenting in another country? What did you take away from that experience?
Presenting my work at a global, interdisciplinary conference in Lisbon, Portugal was a great experience. I met many other people with similar interests and received valuable input on my work. Presenting my work in Portugal and studying abroad previously in New Zealand have been some of the most impactful experiences I’ve had while at Texas A&M. Both of these experiences exposed me to different types of cultures and people, which I think is useful for any profession.

What work will be published in Explorations?
I have published my previous research in Explorations in the article “The Platypus: Duck-Billed Outcast or Crucial Evolutionary Link?” My current research will be published by the conference at which I presented it.

What are your future plans?
I have been accepted to Baylor College of Medicine and will pursue my M.D. with a concentration in medical ethics. I hope to become an academic physician with a dual appointment in a subspecialty of internal medicine and a center for medical ethics, allowing me to see patients, conduct ethics research, and teach medical students.

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