In 2007, Kinsley French arrived at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a freshman from Cherry Plain, N.Y., with an interest in science and research. On Commencement day, she will receive a doctoral degree in biology. In intervening years, she has racked up a slew of accomplishments – earning the J. Erik Jonsson Prize for the highest undergraduate academic record in the Class of 2011 and the Rensselaer Founders Award of Excellence, receiving a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and biology, and being honored with a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She is the co-author of four publications in peer-reviewed academic journals.
“I chose to enroll at Rensselaer due to its fantastic science education program, research, and great reputation,” said French. “Rensselaer has given me the opportunity to pursue research in a field that I am very passionate about.”
In the lab of George Makhatadze, constellation professor in biocomputation and bioinformatics and professor of biological sciences, French researched the formation of mis-folded proteins called amyloid fibrils.
“There are numerous peptides – small proteins – found in semen which form amyloid fibrils that increase HIV infectivity by up to five orders of magnitude,” said French. “Since this likely plays a role in HIV transmission, my work focuses on understanding how these amyloid fibrils form, the structure of the amyloid fibrils, and the mechanism of HIV infection enhancement.”
Her research has been the center of her Rensselaer experience, and French enthusiastically recommends the faculty, facilities, and reputation of the school to incoming classes.
“Through my research experience, I discovered a fantastic career path that fits my interests,” French said. “I have worked on a research problem that fascinates me, has interesting implications, and has the potential to help people. The project is challenging but keeps me intellectually stimulated so that I am excited to continue probing the system.”
Outside the lab, French said she “always felt at home at Rensselaer.” She is an avid reader, a swimmer, a cross-country runner, and – in a quirky turn – practices amateur circus arts, such as trapeze, stilts, aerial fabrics, and animal balloon making. The easy distance between Rensselaer and her hometown has made it possible for her to spend time with her family, and even tutor her siblings.
“I enjoyed the academic community, and I always felt like I fit in,” French said. “Also, I always felt that there were ample opportunities to participate in the activities that are most important to me, things like outreach events and recreation. Most importantly, Rensselaer gave me the opportunity to develop professionally and academically, providing me with the tools necessary for success.”
After graduation, French is headed to Cornell University, where she will begin work as a postdoctoral researcher. Long term, she hopes to pursue basic science research as a university professor. She also hopes to use her experiences to help the next generation of science students.
“It is my hope that, as a female scientist, I can act as a role model and inspire other young women to enter this field,” she said. “Many people have contributed to my education and success and I have seen the difference that a few dedicated individuals can make on a young person. I strive to give young people the same inspiration as my mentors gave me and encourage them to reach for their potential."