Course Variety in MSMS Program Helped Courtney Kelson Find Her Calling

With the intention of eventually pursuing a career in medicine, Georgia native Courtney Kelson earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Georgia State University. But after learning the full extent of her options, another field piqued her interest – cancer research.

When it came time to look for a graduate school, Courtney discovered the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MSMS) program, a broad, interdisciplinary degree program combining the academic and research expertise of the UK College of Medicine’s basic science departments. Enticed by the variety of courses offered in the program, Courtney enrolled.

After graduating from the program this spring, Courtney will continue her education at the UK College of Medicine. Only now, instead of working with patient care, she will pursue work in the labs with the college’s PhD program in toxicology and cancer biology.

“I’ve had plenty of my peers coming into the MSMS program knowing they want to go into medicine,” Courtney said. “But even if you are set on doing that, this program still gives you the opportunity to be open-minded and take different types of courses.”

The UK College of Medicine’s MSMS program helped Courtney assess all of her options with her education in biological sciences. Having lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer, Courtney wanted to learn more on how to help advance cancer treatment. A UK College of Medicine course in Integrated Biomedical Sciences, IBS 602, and her mentors – Isabel Mellon, PhD, director of graduate studies in toxicology and cancer biology, and Eva Goellner, PhD, assistant professor in toxicology and cancer biology – helped solidify her path.
They familiarized her with techniques in genetic engineering and recombinant DNA associated with molecular biology research. Dr. Goellner’s lab specifically focused on DNA repair mechanisms and cancer using mammalian cell culture, molecular biology, and yeast genetics.

“Courtney was an absolute joy to have in the lab,” Dr. Goellner said. “In the beginning, Courtney was working with other students to learn basic laboratory techniques. By the end of her MSMS degree, she was the one who had worked through a new laboratory experiment and was coordinating teaching it to the other students.”

Melinda Wilson, PhD, MSMS director of graduate studies and associate professor of physiology, said because of the MSMS program’s course variety, options are essentially limitless given the breadth of expertise within the UK College of Medicine. Each year, the program has graduates accepted into PhD programs, medical school, dental school, PA school, pharmacy school, or they enter the workforce with additional credentials.

“The MSMS program intentionally only has a limited number of requirements we feel all students at this level should have: a cellular or molecular biology course, physiology, a seminar course, statistics and bioethics,” Dr. Wilson said. “The other 21 hours of the master’s are made up entirely of electives of the student’s choice. This allows students to either explore a variety of areas of science, focus in on their particular interests, or gather knowledge that will help with professional school applications.”

Courtney is working toward a career in biotechnology, striving to make an impact in research of new therapies for cancer treatment. Her advice for students interested in the MSMS program is to approach it like she did, with an open mind.

“This program does a great job of giving you options to learn about different sciences,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a goal to start out, but the way to get to your ultimate goal could require being open when navigating toward your original goal.”