Whether it’s running or pursuing her education, Kathleen Abrams doesn’t take shortcuts. The junior distance runner for South Carolina track and field and cross country is studying biomedical engineering, and while she tries to find the career path that fits her, she recently took part in a summer research experience, which may just help her discover what she does and does not want to do with her life.
“It’s called a research experience for undergraduates,” Abrams said. “They are typically nine-to-twelve week opportunities over the summer, so I went to the University of Akron. I decided to go there because I have some family up there, and I wanted to be close to them this summer. It was on polymer science. It involved a lot of chemistry and biology. Polymers are a type of material, like long chains called monomers. Plastic is a polymer for example. It’s a materiel science that I’m working with.
“The experience really helped me learn and narrow down things that I like. There were things I thought I liked, but as I did more of it, the yield was not as a high. Sometimes it’s helpful to find out things you don’t want to do, so it makes you one step closer to figuring it out.
“We had a lot of lectures in the first week in polymer chemistry and polymer physics. After the first two weeks, we worked in the lab. I worked about eight or nine hours per day. It was like a fulltime job, Monday through Friday. We did have some other activities scheduled. One day we toured a plant to see where they were making plastics. I really liked that.”
As a student-athlete, Abrams is no stranger to having a full schedule.
“Biomedical engineering is so mental, and while running is mental, there’s a lot of physical challenges,” Abrams said. “They’re both challenging in different ways.”
“I really do like teaching others and being a mentor.”
Her summer experience also required her to create a presentation based on her research, which also provide some valuable lessons.
“I learned a lot about communicating your research to others,” Abrams said. “That was kind of hard. I definitely enjoyed my experience. I liked seeing what grad school would be like. I was the only undergraduate student in my lab, so I was working with a bunch of graduate students who were working toward their Ph.D. One person defended his dissertation while I was there. It was cool to see the process of that.”
Abrams’ educational experience was a lot to unpack, but it helped prepare her for her future by finetuning where to go next.
“I wanted to see if I really wanted to go to grad school and do research for my career,” Abrams said. “I’m not sure that I do. It was still a good experience though. There were days when I’d get halfway through the day, and I couldn’t wait for lunch. I really do like teaching others and being a mentor. It could be that I enjoy working at a company and teaching new hires how things work. I like teaching people.
“I chose biomedical engineering because I wasn’t sure if I want to go to medical school. I really liked math and science in high school, and I thought maybe I’d be an engineer. I’m not sure if I want to go to med school or be an engineer, but I’m going to finish this out and figure out what I want to do. I’ve learned a lot in my classes, so we’ll see where it takes me. There is so much to learn. Everything is connected. The classes build on each other, so if you don’t do well in one class, it makes it harder in the classes that it was a prerequisite for.”
Abrams is also taking business classes and has taken on a business minor, which would still allow her to use what she has already learned.
“I might also consider consulting because you can use your technical knowledge in consulting for a pharmaceutical company or something like that,” Abrams said. “Next summer I’m going to look into getting an engineering internship and see if I like that.”
As a student-athlete, she enjoys working as part of a team and encouraging her teammates. As she learns what doors will open up for her future, she is certain of one thing. Although she has four uncles in the family who played college basketball, she knows that running is the athletics endeavor that suits her the best.
“I played a little basketball when I was younger,” Abrams said. “My uncles are all really tall, but I didn’t get the height gene. I was the worst on my team, so I knew I wasn’t going to be doing that!”