Benjamin Zaepfel - Beckman Conference 2017

Having been born and raised in the Old Pueblo, I knew from a young age that I was bound to attend the University of Arizona. Campus was the heart and soul of the Tucson community, and I longed to be a part of it. I came out of high school looking for a new intellectual challenge, one that I realized only the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry could provide. Little did I know that this department, home to friendly faces and brilliant minds, would become the heart and soul of my college experience.

After coasting through my first year of courses, I needed an active way to apply the knowledge I’d accumulated from lectures. With the daunting capstone project getting closer by the day, I began the search for a lab to gain the technical skills necessary to answer biological questions. With the blessing of Dr. Daniela Zarnescu, I began work studying Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in a fruit fly model. Over the next three years, I studied the molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration using various biochemical techniques. I often found myself awestruck by the unique experience I was offered to do such high-level work at the undergraduate level.

By the time I reached my senior year, I was physically equipped to prepare my Biochemistry thesis. But having the skills to do a project is far from enough to actually see it through. Through the many months of stressful failures and round after round of editing, I could always count on the support of the friends I’d made in chemistry courses throughout my education. The relationships I’d built at various departmental events, as well as during late night cramming sessions, helped me thrive in my last year on campus.

In the summer following graduation, I had the privilege to continue my research in Arizona with support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. Moreover, I was honored as one of two undergraduate speakers at the annual Beckman Symposium, held in Irvine, CA. In front of a crowd of biologists from around the country, I eagerly shared the work I’d done during my tenure at UA.

While half of my brain was focused on completing my courses and thesis, as well as preparing for my Beckman presentation, the other half was geared toward applying to Ph.D. programs. After a Spring semester spent jet-setting around the country. I finally decided to accept an offer from the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology program at Johns Hopkins University. With the training and connections I make there, I will be more than equipped to pursue a career of research and teaching at the collegiate level.

The opportunities I was offered through the CBC department have prepared me better than I could have expected when I first stepped on campus, four years ago. But infinitely more important were the friendships I made, both in and out of the classroom. The motto that my friends always reinforced was “If you don’t like it, don’t do it. If you do like it, do it a lot.” Thanks to the CBC community that accepted me from the beginning, I have Wildcat connections throughout the country that will help me do what I like for the rest of my life.


Benjamin walking and talking with others