When we last talked to Haley Varnum '19, the chemistry and math double major, student athlete, and master’s degree candidate had just become Bryn Mawr’s first Goldwater Scholar since 2011. Now, Haley has also been named Bryn Mawr’s latest Fulbright Fellow, and will be graduating this month with a master’s degree and a one-way ticket to conduct research on molecular enzymology in Berlin, Germany.
“I received funding to do science with someone whom I really respect, which is basically the dream for me,” Haley says. “I'm really excited.”
Berlin’s a big leap from Bryn Mawr, Pa., but Haley will be taking it all in stride. “I didn't get to study abroad, so for me this is kind of like my study abroad,” she says. “I'm excited because my advisor is a researcher in my field that we've been collaborating with at Bryn Mawr for a long time, so I feel like the project I'm on and what I'm planning to do is exactly in the Fulbright mission of fostering international connections and ambassadorship.“
Her advisor will be Silke Leimkühler, Head of the Department of Molecular Enzymology at the University of Potsdam, whom Haley met at a research conference last year. “We got along very well, so my professor encouraged me to reach out to her,” Haley says. “I wouldn't have even applied if I hadn't had advisors who were willing to encourage that.”
Haley’s current research, in the lab of Professor of Chemistry Sharon Burgmayer, focuses on molybdenum, which she calls “the engine” of many of the human body’s reactions. With Professor Leimkühler, Haley will conduct research on metalloenzymes, some of which contain molybdenum, and some of which contain iron, cobalt, and other metals found in the body. Metalloenzymes are catalysts in some of the most important biological reactions, including photosynthesis and the processing of DNA.
Haley will also spend the next year immersing herself in German language and culture, which she’s already begun to explore at Bryn Mawr. “I've been attending German table and badgering the poor German professors and students for help,” she laughs. “I feel so lucky because I don't have a ton of language experience or exposure to the German culture, but here at Bryn Mawr, there are so many people who are deeply invested in that culture and in that country. I feel way more prepared to go to Germany than I think I would have been otherwise.”
Despite the new language and surroundings, Haley predicts that life will continue as normal in Germany: she’ll continue her volunteer work, and she’ll continue her long-distance running (she’s already signed up for the Berlin half-marathon in Spring 2020). “Of course, I'm going to miss it here,” Haley says, “but I'm excited to go on to the next steps.
“We're all so prepared and so ready for what comes after graduation. I have no doubts that every senior I know is going to go on to something incredible.”
Fulbright Grants are awarded for post-graduate research and study abroad or for positions such as English Teaching Assistants in schools or universities. An applicant must be the recipient of a bachelor’s degree before the beginning date of the grant.