Student Melissa Miller, 
Research Spotlight.
Major: Exercise Science.
Future Plans: Dental school

Margaret Miller

Major: Exercise Science

Research Mentor: Dr. Lesley Scibora

Research Partner: Sarah Kojetin

Future Plans: I am hoping to go to dental school and will be applying to schools in the Midwest in June.


Fun Facts:

What is your favorite study snack? I really like trail mix! I’ll usually bring a bag with me whenever I come on campus to study.

Do you have a “bucket-list” item you’d like to complete as a Tommie before graduating? I would love to go on a St. Thomas study abroad trip. I’ve studied abroad through IES, but I think it would be really fun to go with classmates and professors from St. Thomas.

What is the last book you read for fun? I’m really into historical fiction and right now I’m reading the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

Career Aspirations

What are your future career aspirations?

I aspire to practice general dentistry, but would definitely be open to specializing if I find something really interesting in grad school. I really enjoy the atmosphere of private practices, so I would love to be a part of a small practice with a few other dentists. Also, once I have finished school and have been in the field, I think it would be really interesting to conduct career based research and look into how dentists can more directly apply the principles learned in school to patients. It’s hard to pin point exactly what I would be interested in researching during my career at this point in my life, but I know I am interested in preventative techniques and materials. Also, the relationship between technology and dentistry would be a very applicable research topic as technology is becoming much more heavily used in the field.

How has your academic experience at St. Thomas shaped those aspirations?

My research has definitely shaped my career aspirations because I have been able to figure out what a career in research could really look like. I have learned how to successfully conduct a research study and have performed each step, making me much more prepared and likely to conduct my own research in my future career. Also, my classes related to the medical field have helped me to learn basic physiological principles that are necessary and applicable to any health profession.

Research Experience

What research projects have you conducted?

Our research question involved comparing the bone density of female collegiate swimmers at St. Thomas to the bone density of regular non-athletes. Original research shows that the bone density of swimmers is quite low because swimming is a low impact sport. This is because impact causes bone to develop, grow, and become more dense. However, we know that at the same time, muscle contractions pull on bone, also increasing the bone density. Due to the fact that swimmers have such high muscle content and are constantly using those muscles, we believe that in places where muscle contractions occur more, more stress would be caused, and the bones would actually get denser. This hypothesis contradicts some of what prior research has shown due to the fact that we predict that bones of female collegiate swimmers could be more dense in locations where the muscle contractions are frequent, such as the forearm, hip, and hand.

What were your conclusions?

Our research is still ongoing, so we have not been able to make any definite conclusions. However, we are now working on developing a new technique to look at the bone density of the upper arm with the DXA scan machine. We really need to master our scanning technique before we are able to scan participants and compare results.

What was your day to day experience like as a student researcher?

We have participants come into the lab and we take some measurements and gather demographic information. Then we do scans on both our 3D (pQCT) and 2D (DXA) scanning machines. We will then take those scans and analyze them in certain regions to get bone mineral density and mineral content. Also, we do a lot of background reading and method comparison to supplement our study.

How did you become involved with the research projects?

Since my freshman year I had known that I wanted to conduct research and was looking for different research opportunities. I eventually got in contact with Dr. Scibora because I was very interested in her research on bone density. We discussed different theories about how athletics are related to bone density and then came up with this project together! The project is very collaborative; I came up with the ideas and she really helped me shape them into something that was worthy of research.

Where there any barriers or challenges you had to overcome to apply for and participate in research?

I had never done research before and was coming in a little blind. I didn’t know much about the Institutional Review Board (IRB), getting approved, or what research really looks like so I had a lot to learn initially. Getting human participants was also a challenge because they have to be willing, able, and comfortable with all of the risks. However, none of these challenges really proved to be a real obstacle in my research because I had a great mentor and research partner to help me with the learning curve. Eventually, I gained confidence in my research. Having a research mentor really makes a huge difference!

Research at St. Thomas

What advantages do you have because you conducted research at St. Thomas?

My research has given me a deeper understanding of many physiological principles that I am now able to apply in my classes. Also, I am now qualified to use the scanning machines which will become very advantageous for future research and could definitely carry over into dental school.

What advice do you have for students interested in research, but don’t know where to start?

Find topics that you’re passionate about because research is going to demand a lot of your time, thought, and effort. Being passionate about your research makes it much more enjoyable and rewarding. Also, just talk to the professors and express your desire to get into research, there are so many more opportunities than you realize that are available to you! Research isn’t out of reach for anyone, just go for it!

What has been your greatest takeaway from conducting research at St. Thomas?

Anyone can do research if they are passionate and dedicated to the project. Looking back through my research project thus far, I have overcome so many challenges and learned so much about not only my topic, but the research process in general.


Also, I just want to extent a huge thank you to Dr. Scibora and Sarah Kojetin for the help and for the chance to conduct research!