Scientific Discoveries

Susan Pond Gilbert ’72

Susan Pond Gilbert ’72 recently won another major grant to support her research on kinesins.

Susan Pond Gilbert ’72 has probed the inner workings of human cells for more than 20 years. Funded by millions of grant dollars, her research has helped in medication testing and is recognized for its potential to help doctors understand the causes of cancer, birth defects, and other maladies.

Recently, she won another competitive $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that will continue funding her lab, which studies kinesins, microscopic motor proteins that help replicate DNA and carry cargo around a cell.

Gilbert traces her success in science back to two chemistry classes that piqued her interest in independent research during her time at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. “One of my strengths was the fact that I got a really good science education, but I also got a strong liberal arts education,” she said.

Randolph’s science faculty members are never surprised when they hear about an alumna or alumnus who has found success in a science-related field. They have seen first-hand how a liberal arts education prepares students for these types of careers.

“The sciences are part of the liberal arts,” said Peter Sheldon, a physics professor and director of the Center for Student Research. “You can do science as well at a liberal arts college as you can at a major university.”

Doug Shedd, the Catherine Ehrman Thoresen ’23 and William E. Thoresen Professor of Biology, said a broad curriculum adds more meaning. “If science is going to be effective, it has to be a part of the real world,” he said. “You need a context for your scientific knowledge. At a liberal arts college, you get all the science content you need, but you also see that content as part of a bigger picture.”

Gaining skills and knowledge in areas such as literature, writing, and art help scientists become well-rounded, biology professor Kathy Schaefer added.

“We need scientists who can communicate,” she said. “The liberal arts allow them to become better communicators to the general public.”

Those writing skills were extremely important to Gilbert, as were other experiences, such as a class on world religions and the chance to experience different cultures on campus.

“There is so much more to science than just the science you do,” she said. “It’s interaction with people and making your way in a very competitive world. It’s how you view other people. It’s being able to see through the eyes of others.”