Doctoral Students Search For New Solutions To Age-Old Problems
By Kara Kunkel
Kayla Walker Edin, English
Kayla Walker Edin is following a passion for literature that
started soon after she learned to read and fulfilling a dream inspired
by a fourth-grade teacher who, impressed with her writing,
suggested that she earn a doctorate.
As a child, Edin was fascinated by adventure novels and captivating
narratives such as Joseph Conrad’s
classic Heart of Darkness. Edin
has been working with Professor
Ross Murfin on edits of the third
edition of Conrad’s 1902 novella
for the Case Studies in Contemporary
Criticism series published
by Bedford/St. Martin’s.
“This is a transitional text between
two periods I’m interested
in ... late Victorian and early modernist
writing,” says Edin, a member
of the English Department’s first group of Ph.D. candidates.
Her interests include women’s literature, which began to intrigue
her after she read Virginia Woolf's classic 1929 essay “A
Room of One’s Own” while enrolled in a study abroad program
as an undergraduate.
“As a student and a traveler, you’re always with other people
and very confined,” she says. “Her essay talks about the
importance of women needing a room of their own to write
and be creative.”
With several years of doctoral study ahead, Edin hasn’t chosen
a dissertation topic, but she expects to find inspiration in
Woolf’s writing and in the 150 or more books she is reading
and discussing with Dennis Foster, the D.D. Frensley Professor
of English and the department’s director of graduate studies. He
and Edin’s assigned mentor, Associate Professor Nina Schwartz,
provide advice and guidance.
“I really can’t overstate the kind of support we get from faculty,”
says Edin, who taught undergraduate English courses in
Portland, Oregon, before coming to SMU.
“I want to teach,” she says, “and I want to continue my research
and publish. That’s a door that a Ph.D. can open.”
Helen McLure, History
Truth often is darker than fiction, as Helen McLure discovered
some years ago when she read a history article that described
the lynching of six women and girls in a Parker County family
over a period of days in 1873.
“I had never heard of this, and I have never met a native Texan
who has heard of the Parker County lynchings,” says McLure, a
doctoral candidate in the Clements Department of History. The
mysterious killings became part of local folklore. In the absence
of official reports or investigations, locals spun rumors and gossip
into stories about horse theft and wild behavior.
The unexplained massacre became the subject of McLure’s
Master’s thesis and changed the way she thinks about American
history. Old newspaper articles are among her favorite sources,
but sometimes they are more fanciful than factual, she found.
And illegal activity that was tacitly approved by a community
often escaped scrutiny.
The fears that drove some communities to verbally and physically
assault individuals they disapproved of or did not understand
was “part of a whole culture of mob violence that goes
back to the very beginning of settlement” in the United States,
She has studied and written about women and lynching, notorious
killings, outlaws and vigilantes in the American West
and Midwest. She also wrote
chapters about a variety of
these topics for the Old
West: History and Heritage,
edited by Edward
of History. And she is a research
assistant on the subject of
Texas lynchings for William Carrigan, a
professor at Rowan University in New Jersey. Carrigan’s research,
funded by the National Science Foundation, examines
the lynching of people of Mexican origin and descent.
McLure is completing her dissertation, which looks at the involvement
of women and children in lynchings, vigilantism and
mob violence in the American West from 1850 to 1930. “I want
to put women and children back into the picture,” she says.
In 2005, the Coalition for Western Women’s History awarded
McLure’s Ph.D. project the Irene Ledesma Prize for graduate
research in gender and women’s history, and McLure hopes
to turn the dissertation into a book.
Christina Paulson, Biological Sciences
While an undergraduate majoring in dance at Tulane University, Christina Paulson broke her ankle. Sidelined from her dance classes for a semester, she took biology courses and discovered a new love. “I think everything about biology is interesting. You can see it in everything around us. I’m just curious about what’s going on one step smaller than we can see,” Paulson says.
At SMU, she is focusing on worms, in particular a tiny nematode
called C. elegans. The worm is one of the most useful
creatures in the laboratory for a number of reasons, including
the length of its life cycle – three days. Paulson and her adviser, Assistant Professor of Biological
Sciences Jim Waddle, thought that the worm might be useful
for laboratory toxicity screening. “You normally apply chemicals
to individual cells or mice. We wanted to use worms because
they’re a nice compromise. They tell us much more than
cells, but are much cheaper and have a faster developmental
process than mice.”
Worms, however, are filter feeders, which creates problems
when testing drugs, Paulson says. They live in the dirt, eating
and excreting everything too quickly for toxins to have any effect.
So Paulson doused the nematodes with mutagenic chemicals.
Then she examined them and thousands more, looking
for worms with abnormal intestines. Finally she found a worm
that had outpouchings all along the intestine. Paulson and
Waddle tested the mutant worm strain and found that it did,
indeed, show sensitivity to toxins. This strain of mutant worms
some day may be used by pharmaceutical companies to test
new, better drugs to treat cancer or heart disease.
Paulson presented the results of their research to the International
C. elegans Meeting at UCLA in 2007.
In the meantime, Paulson has continued to examine more
worms that have been chemically treated and has discovered
three more with mutant intestines. “They have mutations in different
genes, but all have weird intestines,” she says. “The hope
is that we can figure out how these different genes relate to one
another and figure out how this affects drug sensitivity.”