Cailey Renken

Major: Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Research Advisor: Yousif Shamoo

As a Division I athlete, Rice Biosciences Society President, and scientific researcher, Cailey Renken has no problem staying on top of her responsibilities—and still makes time to play guitar and spend time with her friends on weekends. Here, she shares the tips that have helped her explore all that Rice has to offer and engage in activities she finds interest in.

Firstly, explore and focus on learning what you love. As a prospective bioengineering major, Cailey eventually discovered that she was more passionate about the biology component of the major rather than the engineering. “I switched my major to Biochemistry & Cell Biology after my first semester and absolutely fell in love with the subject of biochemistry,” she said. Know that your conception of what your interests are may change, and you may need to change with it. Classes in her major allowed her to dive into new subjects that she enjoyed learning about, such as Organic Chemistry and Genetics. Regarding choosing minors and elective courses, she says, “You never know what you might find, so definitely take some time to explore!”

Cailey is involved in Division I athletics, as she competes for the Rice Women's Swimming Team. “I have absolutely loved my experience at Rice as a student-athlete, and want to stress that you can still make time for research and other extracurriculars, even with a busy athletic and academic schedule, with the proper time-management,” said Cailey.

She is also involved in several clubs on campus. Cailey is President of the Rice University Biosciences Society, which is a club that provides information about research and offers insight into postgraduate opportunities for students interested in the biosciences, and she also leads worship for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

She encourages those who are interested in the Biochemistry and Cell Biology major to consider a variety of post-graduate and career plans. “Although most people who pursue a Biochemistry major are pre-med, don’t let this discourage you from choosing a major in Biochemistry, if it’s what you’re passionate about,” she said. Cailey’s experience in cancer and microbiology research and statistics courses led her to discover her passion for data analysis and problem-solving in a team environment. “As a result, I’ve decided to pivot my career trajectory and am pursuing a career in consulting after graduation.”

Secondly, apply the concepts you learn. For Cailey, this means bringing knowledge from lecture to the lab. In her first research experience in a biochemistry lab course (BIOC 211), Cailey learned a lot. “Dr. Catanese taught me how to think scientifically, plan experiments, troubleshoot, and above all, have fun pursuing knowledge.” she said. Mentorship from Dr. Catanese gave Cailey the confidence to pursue the research opportunities she had so desired.

In Dr. Yousif Shamoo’s lab, Cailey contributes to research on elucidating antibiotic resistance mechanisms. “Because the number of multi-drug resistant pathogens is continuing to rise, I believe that research related to the development of novel antibiotics is extremely important,” she said. One type of technology that was developed in the Shamoo lab is the Microfluidic Biomarker Discovery Platform (MBDP) — an automated and high-throughput technology that can quickly identify biomarkers conferring antibiotic resistance. To validate MBDP, Cailey uses previously established experimental evolution techniques to evolve a pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to antibiotic resistance. Especially given the current COVID-19 pandemic, Cailey sees potential applications of her lab’s research to virology, which is “a great example of the type of research and technological advancement that our world needs.”

For prospective students, Cailey shares many other aspects that led her to Rice. Its undergraduate population is relatively small, and she has never felt lost in the crowd. “I always joke that I can't bike on campus without waving to at least three people I know,” said Cailey. In addition, she chose Rice because of the beautiful campus, proximity to the Texas Medical Center, countless research/internship opportunities, and the genuinely kind and helpful students and faculty. “The best decision I’ve ever made, without a doubt, was choosing Rice University.”