MDI Biological Laboratory

More Graduate Students, More Groundbreaking Science at MDIBL

  • January 13, 2023

The MDI Biological Laboratory’s research and education capacity leapt forward in 2022 with expansion of our graduate programs.  

President Hermann Haller’s vision for growing the student body on campus included a significant push to recruit more master’s degree and Ph.D. candidates. Kylie Bragdon, Ed.D., who became the Laboratory’s Graduate Program Coordinator just a year ago, says it’s paying off.

“When I arrived, we had two doctoral students from the University of Maine, and three additional students from our emerging partnership with the Hannover Medical School,” says Bragdon, a specialist in educational leadership.

By the end of 2022, 19 graduate students were placed on campus for some or all of the year. Of those, nine doctoral candidates are in full and multi-year residencies. In addition, seven post-doctoral scientists conducted their research here in 2022 and will continue in 2023.

Depending on each student’s academic program, they may work in a single lab over the course of three years or rotate through several labs to maximize their exposure to different research strategies, skills, and projects.

There are now three graduate institutions involved: the University of Maine, Hannover Medical School, and, most recently, the University of Toulouse in France.

For Gabriela Johnson, a doctoral candidate in the lab of James Godwin, Ph.D., completing her education here was a natural outgrowth of earlier stints at MDIBL.

She grew up in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, but left the state to earn a bachelor’s in biology at Westminster College, in Pennsylvania. That’s where she fell in love with studying the axolotl, a type of salamander with remarkable abilities to regenerate limbs and organs.

By happy circumstance, Johnson was on the hunt for lab experience when she chanced on a posting for work as a research assistant in Godwin’s lab, starting in 2020.

“I didn’t even think there would be axolotl research going on in Maine,” she says. “It’s like the stars aligned.”

Watch the below video to learn more about how Gabriela Johnson went on to become a University of Maine Ph.D. candidate based at MDIBL, and her groundbreaking research with axolotl. 

Bragdon says one vital goal for the growing graduate programs at the Laboratory is to make sure that every applicant enrolled has consistent access to educational resources.

While some home institutions provide financial support to students, she says, it’s the Laboratory’s donors who play the biggest role in making that possible. One recent development – a Laboratory initiative that awards all masters-level students a stipend sufficient to ensure that those who come from abroad meet requirements for U.S. student visas.

“It’s really important to make sure that students have an equitable opportunity,” Bragdon says. “We want to make the unique learning experiences MDIBL offers accessible to a diverse student body, for a strong and vibrant educational community.”

Initiatives to support the expansion of the graduate program will continue to evolve as MDI Biological Laboratory strives to meet President Hermann Haller’s goal of operating 14-to-16 full-scale laboratories on campus, with two-to-four graduate students in each one.

“Our graduate program is crucial for the expansion of our research programs, as the students provide necessary ground level support to allow each of our labs to operate at their fullest capacity,” Bragdon says. “They essentially are the hands that are driving the machine.”