Mason Soares is a second-year student at the University of Maine from Mount Desert Island, Maine. Majoring in microbiology and potentially minoring in chemistry, he chose the university for multiple reasons.
“They have really good science departments and really good labs, and I knew I wanted to get into a lab. It was also a smart financial decision, and I like staying in Maine. I grew up here,” Soares said.
Like many undergraduate students, Soares isn’t exactly sure of what he wants to do with his degree.
“Probably something in medicine,” Soares said. “I’m not sure if I wanna do something more research-based or go to medical school… I’m hoping as I continue my undergraduate I’ll figure that out a little more.”
He is, however, fairly certain that he wants to attend graduate school. He is considering taking advantage of the university’s 4+1 accelerated graduate program, where he can take masters classes his senior year and obtain a masters degree with only one additional year of coursework. Before that, however, he wants to make sure that he stays on top of his work for this semester.
“I’m enjoying it; it’s academically challenging but I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and I like my classes,” Soares commented.
He stresses the importance of managing your classes in a healthy way.
“It’s just all about not getting too far behind and taking breaks when you need them,” he said.
As a member of the Honors College, Soares’ course load mostly contains microbiology and honors classes. He has thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated what the honors program has had to offer, and would recommend it to other students.
“Just purely from an academic planning and graduation standpoint, it’s really helpful; it helps you with your gen-eds. It’s a lot more discussion-based…you get to do a lot of really interesting readings,” Soares said.
Soares particularly enjoyed the ancient Greek political writings, such as Plato’s “Republic.”. The diversity of the honors coursework has exposed him to subjects he wouldn’t otherwise encounter regularly.
“History and political science was something I really enjoyed in high school, and as a science major it’s not really something I’m prioritizing in my plan, so it’s nice to have honors as that way to explore all these other really important subjects,” Soares said.
When he’s not in honors classes or studying microbiology, Soares is at his job in the Talbot Lab in Hitchner Hall. Although his responsibilities might sound confusing to students unfamiliar with microbiology, he explains his job roles succinctly and clearly.
“We study muscular development in zebrafish, which are the model organism we use,” Soares said. “It’s a lot of raising up fish and examining their development as they grow.”
In the lab, he specifically focuses on skeletal muscle.
“There’s sarcomeres which are the contract elements of the muscle tissue, so you can see those as it’s developing. You can look at how ordered they are, how disordered they are, what they look like compared to regular fish,” he said.
To see these processes, Soares uses a variety of equipment in the lab.
“It’s mostly using GFP, which is a green fluorescent protein which we can use to highlight the parts of the fish that we’re looking for, and it glows green so in a microscope we can see that,” he said.
Soares is grateful for the opportunities and experiences he has access to because of his job. He is doing a lot of pipetting and working with PCR technology. He explained that PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction and is a way of amplifying DNA. He highlighted that it’s how PCR COVID-19 tests operate.
“Because I want to go into science and probably there will be some research aspect to that…that is all extremely useful. Also just personally, actually being able to do real science and be a part of that is really fulfilling,” he said.
Soares spends much of his personal, non-academic time participating in various activities around campus.
“Outside of class I normally go climbing at MaineBound, go for hikes with friends when it gets warmer…mostly just hang out with friends,” Soares said.
One of Soares’ long-term goals is to travel, specifically to Rome, Italy. For now, however, he is enduring the cold weather, enjoying his classes and looking forward to summer.