At Home in the Lab

If given the chance, there’s no doubt where Paiton McDonald would spend most of her time at Iowa State University.

“During the school year I normally I work 20 hours in the lab and 40 in the summer,” said McDonald. “As much as I can this is where I want to be.”

“This” is the lab of Dr. Jodi McGill, assistant professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine. McDonald joined McGill’s lab as a freshman and continues to be an undergraduate research assistant in the highly productive research lab.

“It’s fun being around here,” McDonald a junior majoring in agriculture biochemistry said. “I enjoy both environment and the type of cutting-edge research being conducted in this lab.”

The North Carolina native had never set foot in Iowa before attending the World Food Prize in Des Moines as a high school student. Her time in the state made it clearly aware that this was the place for her.

Any doubt was erased when she learned Iowa State had a degree program in agricultural biochemistry.

She is particularly interested in bovine research which dovetails nicely into the research the McGill research group is conducting. The lab focuses on the immune response to respiratory infections in cattle and is currently studying the response to several respiratory pathogens. McDonald has worked on vaccine projects and has run PCRs for the lab.

“I help where I’m needed and my interest in cattle makes working here the perfect fit for me,” McDonald said.

McDonald’s long-term goal is to earn a PhD in immunology and infectious disease and then find a teaching position where she can also conduct bovine research. She’s particularly interested in conducting research that improves herd health in developing countries.

“If we as scientists can help keep animals healthy that will help the populations in developing countries get out of poverty,” she said.

McDonald started working in the McGill lab with that in mind. That experience was helpful in the junior being named one of two Iowa State undergraduates as 2021 Goldwater Scholars. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering in the United States. She was one of 410 Goldwater Scholars selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of more than 5,000 applicants nationwide.

April 2021