Callie Miller (Class of 2020)

photo of Callie Miller

  • senior double major in Chemistry and French, with a Premedical Studies co-major
  • studying in the combined BA-MA program for French
  • from Champaign, IL
  • conducting research on antibiotic-resistant bacteria and chemical profiles of bourbons and whiskies
  • Beckman Scholar (2017-18); Dean's Scholar (2019); Provost's Student Academic Achievement Award (2018)
  • treasurer, Miami Chemical Society; commodore, Miami University Sailing Team
"Get involved! Talk to people, talk to everyone — just don't be shy…You have to put yourself out there to gain anything. I have had the most incredible support system at Miami through my professors and courses, but it is so important to seek that out."

Why Miami?

"I was deciding between three very different schools all offering very different experiences. When I looked at Miami, I realized it had great opportunities for undergraduate research which were not so readily available at the other two I was considering. Since Miami's graduate program is relatively small, there are a lot of opportunities for undergraduates to step up to produce their own research projects. That is what drew me here and has kept me here!

"While in high school, I came to Miami to attend a biochem open house hosted by the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. That's when I first met chair and professor of chemistry Michael Crowder and associate professor of chemistry Rick Page, who were collaborating on a project on antibacterial resistance. My research projects in high school at the University of Illinois were focused on cancer treatments using nanoparticles and nanoparticle drug delivery systems to treat cancer, so I knew that I really liked the medical research aspect. It wasn't just looking at the structures of chemicals, but doing a project with a broader medical application to the world.

"My first year at Miami was a whirlwind. I started out with a biochemistry major, added my premedical studies co-major, and then added a minor in French. Soon I realized that I only needed 7 more French classes to make it a major, so I became a French major as well. And still as a freshman, I thought, 'Why not get a master's degree?' So I applied to Miami's Combined BA-MA Program and was accepted during my sophomore year! I am currently finishing my master's degree, as well as my bachelor of science in chemistry."

Best Miami Experiences

Callie Miller next to her research poster

"Dr. Crowder and Dr. Page have been huge mentors for me, and they've been supporting me for my entire research career at Miami. There's also Dominik Konkolewicz, who is the Blayney Associate Professor of Chemistry, my organic chemistry professor, and my advisor in the Miami Chemical Society, where I became treasurer. And in the Department of French and Italian, I've had great mentorship from assistant professors Audrey Wasser and Anna Klosowska and associate professor Elisabeth Hodges. All of these faculty are some of the biggest influences I've had at Miami.

"I am not planning to become a medical doctor, but I'd like to continue on to graduate school and pursue a PhD in chemistry and keep doing medical-focused research. Coming to Miami I knew I would have a pretty large course-load, but I needed something else to do besides chemistry. I'm commodore for Miami's sailing team, even though I had never competitively sailed before, but I joined on a whim at MegaFair. We sail on Acton Lake in Hueston Woods.

"Balancing everything is always a challenge, but outside of my chemical knowledge and research learning to find an ideal balance among all my interests and responsibilities is among the biggest lessons I will take forward into a research career."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

Callie Miller with the Miami Sailing Team

"Being a liberal arts student gives you exposure to everything — more classes, more information, more professors, more classmates. I love having that wide foundation and discovering courses and topics I wouldn't have without it. For example, I took an introduction to Buddhism class, which ended up being one of the best classes I've taken. I also loved a French class focused on Postcolonial Western Sub-Saharan Francophone African Cinema (FRE 303).

"I also appreciate the broad application of my premedical studies co-major, where I have to take not only courses in chemistry and biology but also psychology, sociology and human physiology. These various medical courses helped me understand that I don't necessarily need to be a physician to be involved in the field of medicine. Right now I'm looking at a more traditional route to go to medical school for a PhD, not an MD, so that I can focus on research instead of practice. My premedical studies co-major has helped bolster my goals.

"I love learning how to approach problems through different subjects. A chemist approaches a problem or issue much differently from the way a philosopher or French scholar does. Being able to look at issues from different perspectives is really rewarding and useful in both the hard sciences and humanities."

Seeking a New Antibiotic Drug to Cure Bacterial Infections

Callie Miller working in the lab

"Here at Miami I work on a collaborative research project with both Dr. Crowder and Dr. Page as well as faculty from Case Western Reserve University, University of Texas at Austin, and University of California San Diego. Our research focuses on metallo-beta-lactamases, which is a type of protein that expresses itself in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. My work on this research was what helped me win the 2017-2018 Beckman Scholarship.

"Metallo-beta-lactamases have the ability to eat antibiotics, thus creating untreatable bacterial infections. We're looking for a drug that could halt the protein, thus allowing an antibiotic to come in and treat the infection. Finding a relatively simple drug or inhibitor that could do this would allow us to make these harmful forms of bacterial vulnerable to cheap and accessible antibiotics.

"My role in the project is doing spectroscopy, in which I utilize our lab's various microscopes to analyze organic data we receive from other labs to see how the metallo-beta-lactamases are working. I run different spectroscopic tests, like nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), and others, all of which show how the harmful proteins are able to destroy the antibiotic. If we can stop the protein from destroying the antibiotic, that means the infection could be treated. That is the overarching goal of our project.

"The problem is that various strains of bacteria have been evolving, with new forms of these metallo-beta-lactamase proteins showing up every day. Because these mutations are constantly evolving, we need to continue to look for drugs that would be able to inhibit some of the particularly dangerous varieties that are more potent than others in their resistance.

"In August 2018, as a Beckman Scholar, I went to Irvine, California to give a presentation at the Beckman Symposium about my undergraduate research. This was an amazing experience, as it's where all these great minds that made a difference in chemistry and biology come together. I received some great feedback and constructive criticism, with people pushing my boundaries and encouraging me to try different things."

Advice to Students

"Get involved! Talk to people, talk to everyone — just don't be shy. That is one of the biggest lessons my mom has taught me. You gain nothing from not talking. You have to put yourself out there to gain anything. I have had the most incredible support system at Miami through my professors and courses, but it is so important to seek that out.

"Being on my own here at Miami has really forced me to put myself out there to get the opportunities I want. I've learned to speak up for myself in a way that is confident and clear. I believe this determination is going to continue helping me in the future, into graduate studies and post graduate work."

[October 2019]