Student researcher in chemistry lab
Pathway to Happiness
Award-winning Trinity pre-med senior is ready to start helping others

Health is more than a science to Anabelle Marie Conde ’23—it’s a path you walk with the people around you.

A biochemistry and molecular biology major on thes pre-med track from Houston, TX, Conde’s journey to and through Trinity University has led her towards a future in educational medicine. 

“On paper, my life looks like a straightforward path, but there were all those ups and downs in emotions that I've learned a lot from,” she says. “At Trinity, the biggest difference for me has been being able to figure out what worked best to keep myself happy and healthy.”

Conde’s high points? For starters, winning the William Crews McGavock Award for Outstanding Research—an honor established in 1974 by chemistry alumni in honor of Professor William Crews McGavock that goes to the graduating chemistry seniors with the best overall record of academic excellence and achievement. Next, being accepted into UT Health San Antonio's Long School of Medicine and getting to stay in San Antonio, surrounded by friends, her favorite foods, and a supportive community.

Here at Trinity, Conde has learned that the pathway to happiness and health is one that Tigers get to make while supported by dedicated faculty, an engaging set of experiential opportunities and academic resources, and a pre-med environment where excellence can be inclusive and competitive at the same time.

Conde (far left) with her close-knit group of fellow researchers in Dr. Corina Maeder's lab.

Finding Solid Footing

When choosing a college as a high school senior, Conde knew medicine was in her future. “I grew up with an ill brother, and so that kind of exposed me to what the power of medicine can be,” she says.

Conde originally came to Trinity looking for a school where she could both swim and join an academically challenging environment. A star 200-meter and 500-meter freestyler in high school, Conde kept up with her success on Trinity’s swim team, adding the mile to her list of events. 

But as Conde began to experience some highs and lows in the midst of a rigorous biochemistry and molecular biology curriculum, she eventually left the team her junior year to focus on her pre-med track and keep herself healthy and happy. And that was tough for Conde, who says, “the swim team was a really special place to be able to start my time at Trinity—to compete for this school and then to form friendships that I otherwise wouldn't have.”

At Trinity, chemistry students have a demanding road placed ahead of them. “I knew that I wanted to pursue a pre-med route, and I originally thought I wanted to major in math,” Conde explains. “But I found all of my chemistry courses were so interesting and relevant, and once I started getting to know some of the chemistry faculty I was like, ‘OK, this is a good department for me.’”

So, why study a tough subject like chemistry in Trinity’s liberal arts environment?

“I feel the liberal arts have definitely made me just more aware, overall, around the fact that medicine isn't just straight science,” Conde says. “You don’t just learn the anatomy and the diseases. There are so many more social factors, historical factors, that go into it that I probably wouldn't have been exposed to had I not had this more all-encompassing liberal arts education.”

From courses in sociology and religion, Conde says she drew inspiration and perspective from “those bits and pieces of everything else that surrounds science that is also part of medicine.”

Conde, second from right, presents research as part of Dr. Corina Maeder's (right) lab.

Lab Partners 

Conde says she’s found similar—and equally important—sources of perspective and discovery  in her research lab. Trinity, which is nationally ranked for Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects, places an emphasis on experiential opportunities as a way for students like Conde to make an immediate impact on the fields they study.

“I knew coming into Trinity that I’d like the chance to develop myself as a scientist and put what I'm learning in courses into practice by figuring out problems in the lab,” Conde says.

What makes labs at Trinity so special? Beyond the small-school class sizes merged with the technology and resources of a larger university, it’s got to be the faculty.

“I’ve never been in a class at Trinity where I have not had a supportive professor,” Conde says. “The ones that stick out to me are Dr. Corina Maeder, who’s actually my [primary investigator], and I work in her lab, and Dr. Christina Cooley, who is also just a fantastic professor who brings so much excitement to her courses about the subject while teaching it to us. And she's just a fun person to have for class.”

What makes faculty like Cooley and Maeder special? The fact they’re here to do research in partnership with undergraduates.

“When I got started in Dr. Maeder’s lab, I was actually taking her ‘Biochemistry I’ course, so I got to know her both as a student in her class and as a student in her lab,” Conde says. “She's been a mentor throughout my time here ever since then.”

With Maeder, Conde studies RNA splicing, or more specifically, the RNA processing of proteins. Conde is working on the human version of a splicing protein, called hDim1. “Basically, our lab looks at different mutations to this protein to see how it affects splicing, and then I'm working to determine the mechanism of a particular reaction of this protein,” Conde says.

The Right Results

As any student in a research lab knows, this type of work is not always smooth sailing.

“My issue in the lab has definitely been me being able to replicate my results,” Conde says. “My project was one that several previous lab members had taken on before. They would have initial luck, but then would start having issues with replication. Then I took it on, and sure enough, I got the initial results I wanted, but when it was time to replicate, it wasn't replicating.”

In trying times like these, Trinity students aren’t abandoned by their faculty and labmates—they have a network of support. “We’re been troubleshooting our protocols and even figuring out how to fit a protocol that we got from a colleague of Dr. Maeder’s specifically to work with our project in the lab,” Conde says.

This is the team-based philosophy that Conde says you’ll find across entire departments at Trinity, not just if you luck into getting the right professor.

“I think all the faculty, especially in the biology and chemistry departments, are very helpful resources, not just for specific problems in class or lab, but even for [curriculum stuff], making sure that you are aware of what courses you need to take and what the path is that you’re going down,” Conde says. 

That’s the big plus aboutTrinity’s pre-med track, which is smaller in size than pre-med programs at other schools. Students work alongside the faculty who might one day write their med school letters of recommendation.

And this team mentality also cultivates an environment among pre-med students that is collaborative, rather than cutthroat.

“As soon as you figure out you wanna be pre-med, you're gonna meet a lot of helpful professors and helpful students,” Conde says. “Not only have professors been a very helpful resource for my pre-med journey but also for upperclassmen and people who have gone through the process before me. And the group of us biochemistry and molecular biology students is not very big, so it becomes very tight-knit, especially as we've gotten to our senior year and have shared all that time. So, I don't know if these types of academics would've been as enjoyable somewhere else.”

Academic departments aren’t the only sources of happiness and health for individual students like Conde.

As a first-year, Conde took full advantage of resources like the Quantitative Reasoning and Skills (QRS) tutoring center, Trinity’s one-stop, drop-in support shop for all subjects and courses that involve a quantitative aspect. Nestled in the Tiger Learning Commons section of Coates Library, Conde says, the QRS “has kind of had a special place in my heart. I used it my freshman year, trying to get through my math courses and general chemistry at the time.”

And now, the tables have turned for Conde: “I work there, and hopefully, I'm able to help other students get through their math and chemistry courses in the same way that I did. Dr. [Luke] Tunstall heads [the QRS], and I am his peer tutor right now, so being able to work with him is also just another really great experience with faculty here.”

The Next Step

Now, Conde is heading out into the world to help more people—and to keep making new discoveries about herself and the world around her.

“I'm going to the Long School of Medicine here in San Antonio, so I definitely want to keep going with research,” she says. “While being a med student, I also want to explore research at UT Health San Antonio and see what that could bring me.”

Conde says the path she wants to walk—and the way she wants to help others stay healthy and happy—is through teaching. “That’s most of what my time in a lab has taught me about myself—that I enjoy teaching. So, the most definitive thing I can say about pursuing medicine is I want to pursue academic medicine.”

Through her highs and lows, Conde says the one constant in her success has been the people around her: “Research gives you the power to make things better, but so does face-to-face interactions and people skills when you’re talking about being able to affect someone's life directly. Taking that into teaching, when you are face-to-face with someone, you [can] make a connection with them and help them on their path: That makes a difference, too.”

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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