Your bachelor’s thesis in Science

Having an article published in Science is the pinnacle of achievement for a scientist. Chemistry bachelor’s student Marieke Veenstra managed to pull it off after three months in the lab.

‘It is exciting’, says Marieke Veenstra, who has started her master’s degree in the meantime. The paper came online on Friday, and it was a year ago that she started her bachelor’s research project in associate professor Syuzanna Harutyunyan’s group. At the time, the group had already spent a year researching a new reaction which could make medicine production easier. ‘Usually, we don’t give bachelor students such complex projects because it is the first time they are doing real research’, says Harutyunyan.

No one else

But Veenstra was lucky. As it happens, no one else in the group had the time to work on a project which Harutyunyan was in a rush to finish. One of her postdocs, Ravindra Jumde, had just succeeded in making a carbon-carbon bond in one step using so-called heterocyclic molecules. These bonds are very common in medication, but up until now, they had to be made in a roundabout fashion with a considerable number of steps in between. A quicker and more efficient reaction could thus have serious impact in the pharmaceutical industry. ‘We had just received these promising results, so I wanted to do more with them’, says Harutyunyan.

Performing tests

Veenstra was allowed to make the different molecules with which the new reaction could be tested. ‘We wanted to know whether the reaction would work with different side chains, so I was allowed to make them’, she explains. She did not manage to make all of the variations Harutyunyan had in mind, but after making the variations, she was allowed to test some of them herself. ‘That was my favorite part of the research project, because I was allowed to make the molecules as well as to test the reaction.’ And so her name, along with three other researchers, is at the top of the Science article.

All in all, Veenstra believes that she has been especially lucky: ‘If your bachelor research does not fall under another project in the group or if the project is in its initial stages, you have less of a chance of getting a publication out of it.’

She was already pleased that her work would be in a published paper, but that it is appearing in Science is just the icing on the cake. ‘Everyone is responding extremely enthusiastically, which is making me realise how cool it actually is.’

‘It’s all downhill from here’

For her master’s research project, Veenstra would like to return to Harutyunyan’s group. ‘I really like that I can do many different things there. And master’s research takes longer, so then I could try out more things.’

Given that her previous research project was so successful, the group will probably welcome her back with open arms. ‘They tease me a little and say, ‘You already have a Science publication, it’s all downhill from here’, says Veenstra with a laugh. ‘But we will have to see about that.’