Undergrad studies microbiology, genetics to prepare for nursing career
Karisma Kocos works with biohazardous materials in the lab at the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute (PMI). And she knows how to be safe—by wearing the required protective gear and using the lab equipment according to protocol—but she considers her specialty to be training others on how to work properly in that environment.
Attention to detail, working in difficult areas and working with people will suit Kocos well in her chosen field—Kocos is planning on a career in nursing.
Kocos, who is majoring in Biomedical Science and minoring in Chemistry, will graduate from Northern Arizona University in May 2020. After that, she hopes to be accepted into NAU’s accelerated nursing program, which would allow her to finish her nursing degree in a year.
Kocos started with PMI her freshman year working on administrative tasks, and was later promoted to a lab position, working for Regents’ Professor Paul Keim’s group. Because of the range of knowledge she’s gained in that position, Kocos is capable of helping several research groups within PMI when they need assistance—which has enabled her to gain experience with not only microbiology research but genetics research as well.
“It’s kind of a huge mash-up of everything, and it’s been really neat,” she said.
Working with the bacteria Burkholderia, which causes deadly diseases such as melioidosis and glanders, was of special interest to Kocos. She worked with the Keim research team to investigate the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, using microdilution experiments to test different concentrations of 24 different antibiotics and their effectiveness fighting Burkholderia. The team was interested to find that the bacteria were more resistant than was previously thought.
“The antibiotics that we’re currently using in the clinic are not as effective anymore,” she said. “The bacteria have gained this resistance.”
Kocos credits her supervisors, research specialist Kimberly Celona and research project coordinator Heidie Hornstra O’Neill, for pushing her to grow as a leader in the lab.
“Even when I think I’ve done the most that I can do, they ask me, what can you do more? How can you expand on that more?” Kocos said.
She also said she benefited from the collaborative and helpful environment at PMI and was surprised by how many resources were available to her.
“There are just so many different resources at PMI that I didn’t realize would be available to me,” she said. “And that goes for NAU in general as well.”
“Along with developing scientific skills,” O’Neill said, “PMI tries to help our undergraduate researchers improve on their leadership skills. Karisma has really excelled in both areas and was recently promoted to PMI’s Head Undergraduate position, where she is responsible for the coordination and communication of all laboratory matters from the Lab Management Team to over 30 undergraduate researchers at PMI.”