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Finding your passion in research

Elise Ballash conducting research in a lab settingElise Ballash was the child who endlessly asked the question “Why?” Now a master’s student at UNF, she has channeled her boundless curiosity into research.
Today, her inquiries relate to the work she is doing with Dr. Amy Lane, Presidential professor of chemistry, who is focusing on using bacteria as a possible source for the next drug breakthrough. Ballash has discovered that a bacteria she has been studying is producing a new compound that may have the potential to be used for medicinal purposes. “Right now, we’re in the phase that I’m trying to get enough of this compound to determine its structure,” she said. “It’s really cool because this compound has never been studied before.” This past summer, Ballash also participated in the University’s inaugural Chemistry Department Summer Undergraduate Research Program that was sponsored through a UNF partnership with Johnson & Johnson Vision.
To find research opportunities, Ballash talked with several professors during her junior year as a biology undergrad at UNF, in preparation for her start in the new accelerated BS/MS program in Biomedical Sciences. When she met with Lane, the research just clicked with her interests in researching pharmaceuticals from natural sources. “I’m so pleased to have found Dr. Lane,” Ballash said. “She has been a very influential and important part of my time at UNF. I do not think I would have this research opportunity elsewhere as a student just because I think UNF is a more personable university, and everybody wants to get to know you and has your best interests in mind.”
The research project has also helped Ballash in planning her career. She had been weighing opportunities — medical school, a Doctor of Pharmacy, a Ph.D. program or a job in the pharmaceutical industry. “This has definitely helped me figure out what I want to do,” she said. “I would like to ideally get my Ph.D. and pursue more research, which is something I’ve discovered that I love.”
Ballash began her journey at UNF as a student-athlete on the swim team, yet said she also chose the University for the academic programs she wanted to pursue. When an injury at the end of her freshman year ended her ability to swim, she was glad she had looked so closely at the quality of UNF’s degree offerings. “I loved swimming and the team, but in the end it has all worked out for me,” she said. “I am also very passionate about what I’m studying here and happy to be able to devote all my time to my academics.”