Biochemistry professor Mike Cox has received the 5th annual Award for Mentoring Undergraduates in Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The award recognizes Cox’s decades-long dedication to expanding opportunities for undergraduates in the Department of Biochemistry.
Cox founded and leads the department’s Biochemistry Scholars Program. The program, which is more than 10 years old, takes highly successful biochemistry undergraduate students and places them in laboratories to gain research experience. Cox meets with each student individually to help find a lab that fits his or her interests. He also designed, along with now Emeritus Professor David Nelson, Biochemistry 507 and 508, two courses for biochemistry majors. He currently teaches 507. The pair has also authored a biochemistry textbook that is used in undergraduate teaching all across the world.
He also takes a group of students to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) meeting each year. There they all compete in the undergraduate research poster competition, learning to present and defend their work to scientists who serve as judges. The students commonly make up about five percent of the competitors but take home almost twenty percent of the prizes. Cox says he is always strapped for funds for helping students attend the meeting and the prize from this mentoring award will go straight to fund these trips.
“My goal, and the goal of this department, is to expose students to new experiences and open them up more broadly to the world of science,” Cox says. “Many students haven’t been out of the country or even the state, but science is a big international enterprise. I think for students to fully appreciate science it’s important to expose them to that as much as possible. So, we develop programs where they perform research at other universities in countries around the world as well as do things like travel to the ASBMB meeting, which draws scientists from across the globe. My program is just one example of what the department is doing to expand opportunities for undergraduate students in the department.”
Cox has had an impact on countless biochemistry students. Eileen Molzberger-Burchfiel graduated with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 2012 after working with Cox as an undergraduate researcher. She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Duke University.
“I can honestly say I would not be here if it were not for Dr. Cox,” she says. “I was so fortunate to have an undergraduate research advisor who dedicated so much time to meet with me, whether it was about my experiments or about my career. Since I departed from the Cox Lab, his support has not wavered. Dr. Cox inspired me, encouraged me, motivated me, and supported me as I began as my career as a young scientist.”
Hannah Mast was a Biochemistry Scholar who was also a 2016 Goldwater Scholar. She graduated in 2017 and describes Cox as a genuine mentor to her and many other students at UW–Madison. Another previous student of Cox’s is Maeve McDermott. She has an interest in law after completing her undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 2017. She says Cox supported her diverse interests.
“It gives me hope to know that although I’ve left UW–Madison, Dr. Cox will continue mentoring and supporting undergraduates,” McDermott says. “He will continue to help them achieve their highest potential, just as he did for me.”